Chapter 1: Love as a mistake
The state of the Earl of Ellesmere was surrounded by green fields and ancient trees, deep in the middle of Cumberland, near the Scottish glens. It was an imponent construction, of Jacobean architecture, with its columns and archers, parapets and pillars over red stone. The pebbles whispered complaints under the tires of the Jeep approaching the entrance, where the household was waiting in an orderly line.
“Now, Margareth. I’m expecting the best behavior while visiting Ellesmere, are we understood?” Said Lady Clarice Bedwyn, with a floral Hermès handkerchief over her white hair, her lips compressed together in worry. “The last thing we need is another scandal…”
Lady Margareth sighed by her grandmother side, as she watched the large state coming in her view.
“Nana, we are in 2019. It’s not so serious.”
Unless it was. Peggy Bedwyn committed the same mistake that destroyed the lives of many girls around the world: she fell in love. He was a nice boy she met while buying some books in one of the bookshops inside the campus. He was wearing a hoodie with the Oxford University logo and had a strong smell of cigarettes and paper.
They started to talk, while she held to the Shakespeare collection in her arms, his strong cockney accent so charming, his green eyes staring at her. He would laugh of her jokes and pass his hands through his hair, or what was left of it: it was so short she could see the rosy skin of his scalp under the light blond hair.
He was a DPhil in Medieval and Modern Languages and was named Liam. Liam Jones.
Suddenly she saw him typing his number in her phone and saying that he was waiting for her call, as he packed his comic and a lighter. She stared for a long, long time, watching he leave, unable to walk towards the register, who repeated called for the next customer.
It was not difficult to fall in love for Liam Jones, DPhil. He liked soccer and to have a pint every Friday at the pub. He would call her lovey and play with her brown hair, his smile showing under his irises. He would steal kisses by her apartment entrance and whisper lovely things in her ears. It was really easy.
It was so easy that she didn’t complained when he begged to sleep in her apartment, next to her warm body. They have been dating for nearly six months, it was the right thing to do, it was what she wanted.
And she let him go up, undress her like no one ever did and kiss her shivering body. She felt him entering her without even asking if she was ready, what made her really pissed. It lasted three whole minutes and when she opened her eyes again, he was already gone.
A week later, her naked body was all over the tabloids, announcing that the daughter of Lord Piers Bedwyn, Marquis of Granville, have had sex.
It took some months to handle the reporters and photographers, a lot of bribing to avoid more news and photos of coming out. The last step was to take a sabbatical from her undergrad major and stay with Nana Bedwyn, far away at Cumberland, so that everybody in London could forget about Lady Margareth, the wanton.
“I’m sure Jamie will not blink an eye.” Murmured Peggy, thinking about her best friend, Lord James Ludovic Ransom, Viscount Ashness, son of the Earl.
“Lord James is a fine boy but he is not a saint to forgive your indiscretions, Margareth. Now, we will greet all of them and go up. I talked to Lady Diana and she said that, at night, they will offer a little rendez-vousfor the guests who are arriving today. I’m begging you: be kind, be gracious and, most of all, avoid any subject revolving around Liam Jones.”
She sighed, watching the blonde figure of Lady Diana Ransom wave at them, followed by the red-haired Lord Ian. They were a lovely couple, that liked to smile and host parties. Lady Diana and Lord Ian were historians, that met in the Cambridge Library by chance, trying to take the same book from the shelf. It was a simpler time, when you could not just order books on the internet or google something that you needed to know. They needed the book and, logically, they decided to share it.
Years later, they were sharing a bed and three children as well.
“Welcome, Peggy! We’ve missed you dearly!” Said Lady Diana, while two girls of nineteen and fifteen approached the car. “Come say hello to Peggy, Jane! Do you remember her, Suzie dear?”
The Ransom sisters greeted her like a dear sister, hugging and whispering secrets, taking her to the main entrance, the beagles at their heels, sniffing and howling to the stranger that came to their home.
“Where is Jamie?” Asked Peggy, inside the turmoil.
“Oh, you know our brother, Peggs. He is in the attic, as usual. You can find him there.” Said Jane, her slanted blue eyes shining in wickedness.
Before Peggy could answer, she felt the bony hand of her grandmother under her elbow.
“Maybe later, Margareth. We have to refresh ourselves first.”
Lord William Clarence Henry George Ransom watched his state with pain in his heart. Since he discovered who really was his father, he felt like he didn’t deserve to be Earl, to enter the old house built in red stone, to sleep in the master chamber or to eat inside the halls. After all, he was the bastard son of a jacobite traitor.
Dear god, he thought, placing his tricorne hat in a dusty table, as he walked the empty halls of the manor, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. His steps echoed in the rooms and the stale air entered his nostrils in waves. He hadn’t warned the servants to open the house for him, dusting the surfaces, cleaning the floors and opening the windows. The stables were empty, the kitchens were quiet and the house seemed like a skeleton of itself.
There was no one to greet him, to open the door for him and take his coat, asking if he wanted a tea. He hadn’t even warned auntie Minnie that he was back in England. Good, old Lady Minerva, that suffered so much the last years. She has seen her older son die during the war and her younger almost die as well. She has seen her only daughter marrying a quaker doctor, working among the revolutionary troops, in constant danger.
She didn’t know that, perhaps, Benjamin was alive. Or that he married in the colonies and had a son. That Henry might marry Mercy Woodcock, the African American woman that nursed him to life. She only had poor Adam, now called Viscount Grey, holding her hand and taking care of the old lady, while waiting for the war to be over and his place as the heir to the dukedom to be consolidated.
William unbuttoned his red uniform, walking towards the sitting room and seating over the sheet covering the sofa. He had asked for a leave in the army, to think about his new circumstances. His condition of a bastard, most of all. The fact that his whole family lied to him until now. The fact that he had a sister, a nephew and a niece.
He had a stepmother.
Dear god, he thought again.
Placing a hand over his face, William walked toward the fireplace, watching his face reflected in the huge mirror over it, his slanted blue eyes shining, remembering him of James Fraser.
No, that’s enough of self-pity, though William, walking towards the door and taking his tricorne again. His horse was at the same place he left it, munching some overgrown grass near the entrance, its hair the same color of the stones of Ellesmere Park. Jumping in the stallion, he kicked it to a full gallop. If he was going to stay alone with his thoughts in an old and abandoned mansion, he needed, at least, some food.
He ran through the woods, the warm English weather over his skin, the birds chirping in the trees and the squirrels running around. He skipped some hedges in a skillful manner, the same way he had learned with mac. His father.
He crisped his lips and felt the irritation in his throat, realizing that James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser was always present in his short life, staining his childhood memories with shame and regret, his blue eyes a constant reminder of what he has lost and what he has gained the last year.
He took a longer trail, passing through some old ruins by the end of the way. His mind kept racing in what he needed to do. He had only two months of leave in the country, before coming back to the war.
And to the Fraser’s.
He needed to check Fanny’s welfare, after all.
Now, Willie, what’s your plan, then?
First of all, he needed to sell the state. Ellesmere Park and Helwater, with the tenants and everything along, chairs, tables, candlesticks and beds. If he could, he would even sell the paintings of his so-called father and his mother, adorning the family private halls.
The title was a little more difficult. He couldn’t sell it or send it to anyone, as it was donned by the king so many years ago. The title of Earl was within his family since the middle ages, a present of William, the Conqueror, if he was not mistaken. He couldn’t just go to the bakery and say to old Ramsay that he was, for now on, Earl of Ellesmere. Or Viscount Ashness. Or Baron Derwent.
The only way to be free from the title was to never be married. Or, if he was to be married, he could not have children. If he died without anyone to inherit the earldom, it would pass to a long distant cousin, that would sit in his place at the House of Lords and complain on why the old Earl died without maintaining any of his ancestral lands.
He was, now, near to the old ruins of the Monastery, feeling that strange tingling in his skin, as he usually felt near there. The servants would say that the Monastery was cursed and a bad place to be. Back in the middle ages, when the druids were still roaming in the island, the place used to be a small circle of stones, used for the old people to celebrate the seasons. When the Catholics entered the land, they tried to take these places down, breaking the stones and building churches over the soil, blessing what once was unholy.
With King Henry, the monastery was forgotten and the nature started to invade its premises, nightshades and bungles growing between the stones covered in moss, the yard filled with yellow stars-of-bethlehem. He passed slowly with his horse, touching the ivy growing in the walls of the old place, feeling the sun in his skin and forgetting for a while his troubles.
For once, since he started to visit the monastery as a child, he welcomed the tingliness in his nerves not as a bad sign or the presence of something evil.
He welcomed them as good omens of new things to come, of a bright new future opening to himself.
Jamie was not on the rendez-vous organized by his mother. All of them were spread at the courtyard, watching the stars, listening to some music in the stereo. Jane talked in hushed tones with her mother, while Peggy was laying in a blanket by her grandmother side, listening to the old lady talk in a very distinct manner with old Lady Louisa, mother of the Earl.
“We are going up, Peggy.” Said Jane in a low voice, her eyes tired and her voice drowsy with sleep. “Are you coming with us?”
“I was waiting for Jamie. I thought he was coming downstairs to greet us.” Margareth complained.
“Oh dear, you know my brother. Since his vacation started last week, he’s been trapped inside the attic, making discoveries of his own, things about the old earl of Ellesmere and his mysterious wife, or something like that. Who knows?” She sighed, kissing her friend in the cheek and greeting the guests good night.
“Nana…” She started to say to her grandmother, a shy smile in her lips and eyes full of earning.
“I don’t think that Lord James desires to see any of us, Margareth.” Said the Old Lady, with crisped lips. “If he did, he would have joined us in this wonderful rendez-vous.”
Peggy furrowed her brow, knowing that her grandmother was only saying that due to the events of last December. Liam Jones would always be roaming her mind and her life, a ghost controlling her freedom.
“Oh, Clarice.” Said Lady Louisa, her bright blue eyes staring at the girl. “Let the young be young. Peggy is such a dear and I’m sure that my grandson didn’t come to visit us just because he’s too interested in his new discoveries. Now, my dear, you may go. It’s my 70th birthday and my wish is for you to have fun. Your grandmother and I have plenty to talk about.”
Peggy smiled, radiant in her twenty years, finally free to visit her dear friend. She got up in a hurry, hearing the ladies laughing at her excitement, while she ran inside the manor, her feet echoing in the wood. She got down to the kitchens, surprising the staff that was having supper, at last, as she opened the fridge and took two canned gin and tonic in her hands. With the same sense of urgency, she climbed all the stairs, short of breath and flushed, opening the door with her elbow, seeing the red-haired man sitting in front of some paintings, placed with care on the floor.
“Have you forgot your manners, Jamie?” Said Peggy, opening one can and hearing the sparkling sound produced. The man turned and she saw his blue eyes shining, as his hands came forward to take the drink.
His hair was a deep auburn, curled like an angel’s hair. He had a strong nose that in anyone could have been a weird feature, but gave James Ransom an heir of authority that fitted him very well. Over it, his reading glasses sat framing his features, making him look intelligent and elegant. He had a smirk in his face and he motioned her to come forward.
“Milady, you greet me with your presence. I was intending to fetch you, anyway.” She sat by his side, her eyes turned to the painting in front of them. “May I present you to Lord William Ransom, Earl of Ellesmere?”
“Oh, Jamie. You have the same eyes!” She said surprised, watching the blue eyes of the handsome man staring at her, like a lion waiting for the prey. He had a strong jaw, broad and nice, with high cheeks and bright chestnut hair. He was a tall man, as she could see by the painting, with broad shoulders that would be the death of any lady on those days. The strong nose that Jamie had was, probably, a feature incorporated into the family back in the next few centuries.
“I bet his wife was very jealous of him. Do you have any information of her?” She whispered, contouring the figure of the earl with her digits.
“That’s the interesting part: no one knew her full name. She was mentioned over and over again as Lady William Ransom or the Countess of Ellesmere. However, after spending my last few days of vacation in this attic, I have the pleasure to introduce you to Lady Margareth Bedwyn Ransom.” He said in a flourished voice, handing her an old piece of paper, a marriage certificate, containing the proof of union between Lady Margareth and Lord William.
“Oh, Jaime! This is amazing! She may be a distant cousin of mine! The name runs in the family. Look! They were so young! She was twenty and he was in the verge of turning twenty-two… Do you have a picture of her?” She asked softly, fingers crossing the yellowish certificate.
“I haven’t found anything yet. But I will remain here until I find this painting for you, Peggs.” He said, with a sad smile in his eyes.
“We were relatives, Jamie.” She murmured to him, eyes going up, fixed in the handsome face of Lord William. “Our families were bound together by matrimony.”
And for a minute, Peggy thought that Jamie was going to say something, taking her free hand in his, eyes shining under the fluorescent lights. However, he just smirked at her, a mysterious and sad smile, filled with secrets.
Chapter 2: Love as salvation
R u up?
She read in the message gleaming in the screen of her phone. It was Jamie, obviously. Just him to send her a text so early in the morning. It was not even 8 o’clock.
Come to the attic. I’ve something to show u.
She got up quietly, in her pjs, trying to be as silent as possible and to avoid the public spaces on the manor. Since the beginning of the 20thcentury, the old earl had to open the house for visitation, as a new sort of income. She could hear the tourists murmuring in the hall, while being led in the corridors by a tour guide. The last thing she needed was to be in another tabloid as the unusual lady walking in her night clothes in Lord Ransom’s mansion.
She met Jamie sitting in the same place as she left him the other night, sleepy and groggy, while searching in several boxes for the lost wife of the Earl. However, she abandoned ship when she realized she was not being able to keep her eyes open. Apparently, her friend remained in the search throughout the night.
“Peggs, come here.” He called her, taking some things from the boxes.
In his hands, a nice drawing, in black crayon, of a woman, sitting in a messy bed. She had her naked back turned to the painter and her hair was falling in waves over her shoulder, in front of her. You could only see a string of pearls falling in her back and the contour of her face, the upturned nose and the dark eyelashes.
She furrowed her brows, as she tried to read the name by the corner of the page.
“W. G. Ransom.” She murmured, holding his eyes in hers. “It was…?”
“The earl? Yes.” Jamie appeared to look much younger than his 25 years. “Look at the back.”
She turned the page and saw written in an elegant handwriting:
“Oh, Jamie, this is amazing!” She laughed in excitement.
He laughed as well, his eyes fixed on her. He took the drawing out of her hand, his fingers lingering on her skin for a while. His skin was damp and warm, like a summer day, soft like cotton, a hand of a true historian, whose digits only touched very ancient and delicate things.
“1779? When did they get married?” She asked softly, watching the date by the earl’s name.
“The same year. I couldn’t see the month exactly, but Lord Adam Grey and Lady Minerva Grey were the witnesses. I’ve searched a bit about the life of the lady, but I found nothing particularly: the marquee of Granville already existed, but it didn’t belong to your family yet. There was a Bedwyn baronet, however… I cannot imagine why the earl would marry the daughter of a lower noble.”
“Maybe they were in love, Jaime. Look at this drawing. This is clearly love.” Peggy murmured, eyes fixed on the earl’s long lasting words in paper.
For a while, the silence took over them, and not a word was said. There was something in the air, Peggy noticed, that made her shiver with anticipation, her heart skipping a beat. She didn’t feel like that since…
“How about we get dress and go ride. A run through the monastery, what about that?” Suggested Jamie and the girl couldn’t think of anything better than that.
They rode in a friendly silence, jumping streams and galloping in the open spaces, not daring to tire their horses or to do anything more extravagant. The last time both of them rode together, they must have been only 15 years old, still in high school, visiting each other in the long summer vacation.
They were friends for as long she could remember, even though they had near 6 years of difference. Their grandmothers studied together back in the old days and became best friends. With the years going by, marriage and children all mingled together, and it was common to find the Bedwyns and the Ransoms visiting each other. She and Jane had a very similar age, but were so different in personality that the friendship never developed beyond some pleasantries. It was James that grew on her, whose companionship made her summers more magical and fun.
Sometimes, Jamie would start to hum, usually something from old rock bands, his contralto voice booming between the trees and ferns. She would follow him, always out of tune, screeching in the top of her lungs, making her friend laugh out loud and finish their song. Other times, they would start to play games, saying in whispers ‘I spy with my little eye’, trying to guess the fauna and flora around them.
They were playing the childish game when they spotted the monastery. There it was, old and ruined and so beautiful. It had no roof and only four complete walls, where it was said rested the old celtic stones once, covered by ivy and moss, the grounds sparkling with yellow stars-of-bethlehem.
Walking amid the grass, she felt the so familiar tingleness, as if someone was watching her over the ruins.
“William Ransom! Did you ever thought that you were going to get back to England without seeing your own aunt?” He heard coming from inside the house.
Willie was holding dearly to the reins of his horse and closed his eyes in terror.
He noticed something amiss, as he entered the state and saw the permanent flux of servants entering the premises, servants that he had not summoned when he went to the village to buy groceries the last day. And now, the mystery was resolved, as he saw his aunt with an apron and her hands in her waist, the bright blond hair shining under the sun.
“Aunt Minnie! What a surprise! You shouldn’t have bother with calling the servants. I would have done that.”
Eventually, he almost added. Maybe just to let them know that the state now belonged to someone else.
“I don’t believe in you, William. Now, come here. I will ask for tea.” She motioned to the door.
In hurry, a groom half-dressed came to take the reins of the bay horse he purchased coming to England, bowing many times to the Earl, making Willie turn his eyes to the sky and damn the day that Uncle Hal decided to marry such a cunning woman. With this thought in mind, he followed the duchess inside, watching as she took the apron from her fine garment and handled it to a dazed maid passing by.
“I’m sorry for the apron. I had to help the servants in some chores, to remove all the dirt and dust from the furniture and open the windows. The air was extremely stagnant.” She said, sitting in the futon, while ringing a bell, making the same maid, with the apron still in hands come in hurry. She asked for tea in a very formal voice, that made every servant in a 10 miles range shiver with fright and watched without blinking the girl disappear in a hurry towards the kitchens. “Now, I’ve asked them to prepare the earl’s bedroom, of course, but I believe it will be ready just for tomorrow morning, as it has been sitting abandoned for too long…”
“I will not use it, aunt.” Willie said in a hushed tone.
Lady Minerva raised one very blond eyebrow to her nephew, crisped lips.
“And may I ask why?”
Willie crossed his legs in twice, uncomfortable, thinking about everything that happened with him and his family in the colonies. His life was turned upside down due to a secret that lasted twenty and one years. And now… How could he tell his aunt a secret that wasn’t his to tell?
“It’s complicated.” He decided to say, at last.
A second eyebrow was raised and he could see the knowledge sparkling in is aunt’s bright blue eyes.
Taking from the neckline of her dress, a letter was placed over the futon next to her, close enough to Willie see who had sent it but far enough so he couldn’t take it.
“Aunt Minnie, I don’t know what father have written to you…” He started to say, but was interrupted by the old lady.
“Your father hadn’t written anything to me, my dear boy. This letter is to you.” She said, taking it from the sofa and holding it between her hands.
“But it’s open.” The earl said meekly.
“Well, you’re a very observative boy. Now… Oh, yes, thank you.” She said to the maid, coming with tea and tiny sandwiches, placing them in front of the two. At the same time, his aunt was already serving it with care. “Sugar, dear?”
“No, thank you. Just cream.” William answered, the questions closed in his throat, his anger buried somewhere inside his mind, as he watched his very polite and gentle aunt serve him tea, in her lap a letter of his father addressed to him, telling all the dirtiest secrets of the family.
“Cucumber sandwich?” She asked, handing him a plate full of delicacies. He denied with his head, his fingers holding tightly to the cup of tea. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes! If I understood it correctly, my dear, your father writes to inform you that they found the mother of my only grandchild and they are trying to discover if my older son is truly dead. He also says that your step-motherMistress Claire Fraser asked him to inform you that Fanny is very happy and being very well treated in Fraser’s Ridge, whatever it means. Oh, yes, your father asks you to do nothing thoughtless about the earldom, before you regret it.”
The silence took over them, as her bright blue eyes read his emotions, plain in his face, like a book.
“Oh, yes.” She added, with a cocky smile in her lips. “I’ve almost forgotten. Your other father sends you his regards and the warm kisses of your sister and your nephews.”
William felt like he could faint under Auntie Minnie eyes. Now he understood why Dottie preferred to marry a quaker in the colonies than to stay with her own mother in London. She could kill anyone with that sharp look.
“Aunt Minnie… I really do not wish to explain everything in this letter.” He begged, brows furrowed in angst.
“Oh, William, dear. I really do not care for your wishes. You may start now.”
She felt the sun in her skin, the wind in her hair, making her smile without thinking. She had borrowed riding boots with Jane, placed over her jeans and the long-sleeved t-shirt, to protect her skin from branches in the way. Ophelia, the horse she had borrowed from the stables of the earl, was a gentle bay horse, so different from the Arabic fire Jamie was riding, named Samir, both of them munching grass near the ancient stones.
The monastery was a weird place, that always gave her goosebumps when she set foot there. It was said to be haunted by an old monk, very unhappy with the dilapidation of his home.
“Peggs… We need to talk about Liam.” Said Jamie, resting his back in one of the old walls.
“No, we don’t.” She answered, walking around, the fingers passing over the stone walls, her ears buzzing slightly.
She avoided the subject with him for many months, even during those days when she could see her body everyday in the front page. He would call her, ask for explanations, but how could she tell him what exactly happened? How could she ask him for help her, like he always did when she was in trouble?
How could she admit to James that she was stupid enough to trust Liam? To believe he was madly in love with her, like she was with him?
“Yes, we do.” Jamie walked towards her. “Look what he did to you. To your family. To your friends.”
“This will pass. Daddy made agreements with the press. They cannot publish new photos…” She started to say, but was interrupted by her friend, who grabbed her arm, making her look at him.
“They can’t publish new photos, but they can publish new articles. They’ve been following your friends, Peggs, harassing teachers in Oxford. They’re interviewing people that don’t know you for the Time Mail and vilifying your image. Father tells me that the lords are mocking your family in sessions. You’re like a new celebrity in England and that’s not a good thing.” He said, sorrowful eyes over her.
“Please, James. I don’t need to have you lecturing me about how stupid I was. Nana already did that last month.” She complained, taking a flower from the grass and rolling it around her fingers.
“I will not lecture you about anything. I’m worried about you, Peggs. Do you know how horrible it was to see you in the cover of the Daily News, try to call you and no one to answer?” He was upset, his hand placed over the stone, eyes shining towards hers. “You wouldn’t talk to me, Peggs!”
“I… I was ashamed.” She admitted, glancing towards his tall figure. “You are my best friend and I wanted to talk to you… But what good that would make? Talk? The world was burning around me and I had to do something concrete. I couldn’t even cry properly.”
“I would have helped you.” He said, coming towards her. “I will always help you, Peggs.”
“There was nothing you could do. There’s nothing you can do. I will just have to wait and hope everyone forgets about my existence.” She whispered, trying to control the tears of shame and regret.
“No, that’s not true. There’s something I can do.” Jamie said in a whisper, his blue eyes fixed in her brown one’s. “A name can protect you from the reporters and make this fade faster.”
Peggy looked at Jamie confused, her brows furrowed.
“What do you mean? I have a name, the Bedwyn name. My father is a Marquis, after all.”
“The Bedwyns only got the marquee after the old lord died and the title went to your grandfather Gerald in 1947. Your great-grandfather was a commoner and your grandfather married Lady Clarice to elevate his status between his peers. However, the Ransom name is bounded to the Ellesmere title since the Tudor days. And once, a Ransom gave the protection of his name to an old relative of yours, also named Margareth Bedwyn. Is this coincidence or is it fate?” Jamie was whispering near her, his head turned to her, his eyes fixed in her lips.
“What are you proposing, Jamie?” Peggy murmured, out of breath.
“Marriage, Peggs. That’s what I propose.”
She stared at him, brows furrowed, trying to absorb the complete nonsense that was coming from his mouth.
“Are you daft?” She managed to say, as a laughter came from her throat. She kept laughing, waiting for him to follow her lead, but he was very serious. She stopped her maniac laughter and watched him with alarmed eyes. “Are you fucking serious?”
“Peggs, please.” He exhaled, taking her hands in his. “You’re being stubborn.”
“Stubborn?” She exclaimed, eyes fixed in his. “How could you say that? I’m the only sane person in this friendship, apparently!”
“I would never propose something so serious as a joke! The Ransom name is a strong name in the House of Lords and you would be Lady Margareth Ransom. My parents love you, my sisters consider you as sibling and we have many things in common.” He said, like he was giving her reasons to buy a new car.
“Do you love me?” She asked softly, watching their hands together. She waited for his answer and, as she only heard complete silence, raised her head. He was watching her with pain in his blue eyes.
“I care for you, Peggy. I truly care.”
This only made her take his hands of her and find adorable Ophelia, demanding her to take her back home and never look back.
Chapter 3: Love as an agreement
James had proposed to her. Between the beautiful ivy walls of the ancient monastery, with her ears buzzing and her skin tingling in an uneasy manner. For anyone that didn’t know her, it was a beautiful setting, very romantic. But it revolted her stomach every time she thought of it.
Good and faithful Jamie. He was doing what he thought was decent and just. He didn’t love her, the same way she didn’t love him. Still, he proposed to her, very conscious of the wedding for convenience he was chaining himself to.
Why everything about nobility in England was so last century?
She looked at her image in one of the great mirrors in the ball room. Her grandmother had chosen her a pale long blue dress, with layers and layers of tulle, embroidered with tiny pink flowers. The bodice was tight and it had an open neckline, the short tulle sleeves resting out of her shoulders. In her feet, delicate satin Laboutins. Her long chocolate hair laid in waves, intertwined with a blue ribbon.
She looked lovely, yet she felt like she could explode the whole place down.
Always in her range of sight, was Jamie, wearing a tux and looking rather sad. His auburn hair was combed, his eyes shining under the electric lights. Although he didn’t try to talk to her, he stared at her, eyes always fixed anywhere she went.
“You are very quiet today.” Said her grandmother by her side, dressed in a velvet deep blue dress, a tiara placed in her white hair.
“I don’t want to talk.” Peggy answered, lips crisped.
Since her escape that afternoon from James proposal, she have been avoiding everyone and everything. All of the Ransom’s thought it was due to the party that afternoon, where many nobles and big shots would appear. And whenever they appeared, gossip followed.
But her grandmother had a strange sixth sense… She was always very correct about everything her family members were thinking or feeling.
“I hope you and young Jamie haven’t fought or anything. If you did, you better sort your differences before the end of the evening or you will ruin Louisa’s birthday party.” Whispered angrily Lady Clarice.
“I will not ruin anything. Because I’m very sensible.” Said the girl, smiling to the waiter serving her more champagne.
“If you were sensible, Margareth, you would be having fun in London with your friends, and not locked in Cumberland with your grandmother.” Teased the old lady, a wicked smile in her face. “But everything will be sorted out. I’ve arranged to that.”
“Oh, Nana, you can’t control the whole world. I know that you think that is very easy, but with the spread of social media and democracy, it has been increasingly difficult to put everyone under your heels, you know.” Said the granddaughter, enjoying herself very much indeed.
“Humpf.” Complained Lady Clarice with a snap of her tongue. “You overestimate everyone, dear…”
Before her grandmother could finish her sentence, everyone in the room started to talk in excitement, their heads placed near each other, eyes darting around the room. The buzzing of phones was heard all over the place, as their owners took them from pockets and small party bags and unlocked them, to see what was the latest news.
Peggy herself felt her phone buzzing in her handbag, over and over again, nearly in a frenetic manner. She opened the bag, picking the appliance in her bare hands, watching as notification after notification appeared in the screen.
Instagram, twitter, facebook, imessage, news outlets…
What the hell was happening?
Before she could unlock the screen and read everything, a voice came from where a jazz band was playing:
“Ladies and Gents. I would like to make an announcement.”
There was Jamie, beautiful in his tux, his hair combed and blue eyes sparkling. He was near the microphone, his hands catching the base of it firmly, as she could see by his white knuckles. He was smiling, taping the microphone so that the mass of people could listen and pay attention to him, while still showing their smartphones around.
“Please, please. Today is a day for celebration!” He cheered. “Not only because my lovely grandmother is turning 30 years old…” A chuckle came from some of the guests and she could hear the rumor decreasing, as Lady Louisa laughed like a girl. “But, also because I found true happiness.”
Peggy felt her hands getting moist with sweat, her cellphone falling from her hands and reaching the ground in slow motion. She looked down, watching it quick in the floor, without trying to rescue it. Her eyes got up again, fixed in Jamie’s, that watched her across the room.
“I’m here to announce my engagement to Lady Margareth Bedwyn, daughter of the Marquis of Greenvile.
It was late in the afternoon and William set very still in the library, a glass of brandy in his hands, his eyes lost somewhere in the colonies.
His aunt had made miracles in the old manor: the floors were shining, there wasn’t any surface with dust and the night air filled the premises, bringing the smell of pine tree and nightshades. She had frowned at the sight of the groceries he had acquired earlier on the other day and sent the cook himself to fetch new things for the supper. They stood in silence on the table, munching pies and slurping broths, the only sound was the clatter of forks and knifes in the porcelain.
They haven’t discussed about what he had confessed earlier. Aunt Minnie listened to him without flinching an eye, nodding and asking the right questions. When he finally finished talking, a long silence took them in the living room and he managed to take a sip from the tea she had offered for him earlier. It was cold.
She informed him that she would ask the supper to be served around 7 p.m. and left, leaving him to his own thoughts, just like she left after dinning together. Surely, old, good aunt Minerva needed some time to understand everything he had told her. Tomorrow, she would face him with a nicely crafted plan and would not listen to his complaints or his demands: he would have to obey.
He was sick and tired of this.
He took a long sip of the brandy, placing the cup over the fireplace and resting his forehead in his hands.
He had told Minnie about Jane, beautiful and fierce Jane. Since then, she was fixed in his mind, brown eyes staring at him, the image of her body in the nightgown, smeared with blood, as her lifeless corpse laid on the floor of her prison, surrounded by shreds of glass.
Although he tried to summon up the memories of her lively self, following him in the army and protecting Fanny from evil, he couldn’t remember very well. It seemed as he was watching through a sieve, able to discern only shadows and movement. The only clear image he had of her was the only one he wished to never see again in his life.
He thought he loved Jane, like he loved Rachel. No. He didn’t love Rachel.
He fancied Rachel, while he stayed with the Hunters, recovering from his injuries. She was pretty and kind, like the woman he thought he was going to marry one day. However, he was a boy and never took the thought of getting married very seriously. In his head, he would come back from the war in two, three years, go to Cambridge like his father wanted him to go and get a degree in something respectable, but nothing very ordinary.
Then, he would spend some years in London, enjoying the Season and flirting with married women and spinsters. He would do a Grand Tour, of course, and spend two years roaming around Europe, him and his valet. Maybe he would have a mistress, that would have a fine place to live and would receive lovely jewels until her forced retirement.
By the time he reached the healthy age of thirty years old, he would go to the London Season and look for the prettiest debutant he could find. She would, probably, be very blond, with huge blue eyes and very shy. Maybe the respectable daughter of a baron or a viscount. He would court her, bringing her flowers, declaiming sonnets and taking her for long walks in the Hyde Park, in an open carriage, like it was proper.
After something around a month like this, he would meet with her father and declare his intention to marry her. The man would accept, of course, and they would run the proclamations. William would throw an engagement party and, by the end of the season, he would get marry in St George’s Hanover Square Church.
So, he left the Hunter’s place pretty sure of his destiny. Rachel was a fine girl, but wasn’t bred for an earl.
And then he saw her with Ian. His cousin. He was mad with anger, but not because he discovered he was madly in love with the girl. He just felt… jealous. Because Ian had found happiness in someone he, once, ruled out, like an used tissue.
He did love her, but not like he thought love should be. He lusted for her, as she was a beautiful girl, with a beautiful body. And, still, he was fond of her company: she was like the sister he never had.
And that’s the ugly truth.
He will remain alone for all his life, without experiencing the excitement that was love.
Old William would think that remain a bachelor was a great plan, even saying that marriage was an institution created just to please women. Why somebody would marry? Why not spend his days whoring around, flirting with women and acquiring the status of a rascal?
There was only an answer, said Old William in his ear:
To breed. To have proper children to rule his state and dilapidate his earnings whoring and gambling in London.
He was free, couldn’t he see that? He was free! Free from insipid blond, blue-eyed girls and their frigid mothers. From proper engagements and proper marriages, leading to proper children.
His title would die with him. William Ransom, 9 th Earl of Ellesmere. And the last earl as well.
He looked at the bottle of brandy, laying over the table, still half-full and, taking a deep breath, his eyes already a little hazy, decided to take it to his room, to take away the sudden thoughts of marriage and happiness.
He would lay in his room, the room that was not the earl’s and, probably, not even the best guest room in the house, and would drink until he gained back his senses.
Everyone started to speak at once, the sound growing in the ball room, waitresses and ladies pointing at her, murmuring things on their friend’s ears, forgetting to applaud or say something to the groom still placed over the microphone.
“Oh, dear! That’s amazing!” Said Lady Clarice, holding her granddaughter’s arm and turning the girl to her.
“Nana, please.” She whispered in panic, her eyes darting around the room, seeing Jamie getting closer to them. “Let me go, Nana, please.”
“Margareth Bedwyn, are you mad? Where are you going?” Screamed the old lady, watching Peggy take the phone on the ground and walk towards the French doors in the back of the room, leading to the garden.
No one dared to stop her or congratulate her. The few guests hanging around the outdoors only glanced at her, with her heels sinking in the grass, tears in her eyes, the tulle dragging behind her. She didn’t know where she was going: the only thing she was certain is that she needed to get out of there.
So, she ran, as fast as she could in heels half sank in the grass, following a strange sense of direction she never had in her whole life.
“Peggs, wait!” She heard Jamie screaming behind her, his steps softened by the moist soil under them.
“Go away, Jamie!” She screamed, out of breath. “Why you said that we were engaged in front of all your grandmother’s guests? You knew what I thought about your great plan!”
“Peggs, I had to! I’m helping you, can’t you see?” He yelled, pulling her arm, so she could stop running. She turned around, her face covered by the shadows from the trees. They were already far away from the manor and the sounds were very faint, like she was listening the buzz from a bumblebee. “Look at your phone.”
She unlocked the screen, her eyes darting through the notifications, friends worried about her, missed calls from her parents, unknown numbers and… a video. Someone sent her a video.
She opened it and the phone fell from her hands again: there was a naked body, her naked body, moving against other naked body in the screen. She could hear her moans, saying things that could make a sailor blush, watching Liam open her up like someone would do to a porn star. Peggy felt the tears rolling down her cheeks and the shame washing over her.
One thing was the images, frozen in the past, of her naked body in the half-light of her chamber. Other was the video, her movements and her words so intimate, intended to be a private secret between her and Liam.
“Oh, no…” Peggy whispered, the tears running down her cheeks. Jamie was in front of her, his hands in hers, his blue eyes staring at the girl, with a furrowed brow and a look of complete worry. “Oh, no…”
She took Jamie’s hands from her arms and started to walk again. However, he was behind her, grabbing her arms with his hands, saying things she didn’t understand, in a calm voice. Peggy lost her temper when her heels sank again in the grass, making her take the shoes with haste and throw them on the soil.
“Enough! It doesn’t matter, Jamie.” She yelled at him, pushing his body away from hers.
“Peggs, please…” He pleaded, taking the heels from the grass and guarding them in his own hands, like a fucking stupid prince, waiting for his fucking Cinderella. That image made her blood boil, the memories from his announcement in her mind, the fact that women were only respected in the posh society when they were properly married, the fact she was sick and tired of all the nonsense that was happening to her.
The fact she wanted to love and be loved. She wanted to be respected and taken care of. She wanted to feel something so grand that could be sacred.
“I don’t care if I’m fucked up. If I’m left alone and forgotten by the posh society. I cannot marry you! You’re my best friend, James. We would be miserable! Don’t try to fuck up with your life just because I did it first.”
The boy didn’t say a thing: he just stared at her, brows furrowed, lips crisp and fists closed around the heels. When Peggy gave a step backwards, he didn’t try to stop her, remaining still, like a statue. And when the girl turned around and ran towards the woods, he remained where he was.
Margareth didn’t know consciously where she was going, feeling the branches touching her skin, her toes curling in the moist soil, following the beating she heard in her ears, the vibration in the air calling for her, embracing her terrified self and pulling her to it.
She didn’t know how long she ran between the trees, beyond Ellesmere Park. However, eventually, she felt the leaves of grass in her toes and the shadows of the old monastery. She felt lost and disoriented, even though her body was being pulled towards the old stones, as her feet, cut and dirty from the run on the gravel, took every step necessary.
She wished to stop, she wished to come back, but she kept going, being called by the ancient baptismal font in the center. How strange was that, she thought. To feel like something greater than life was calling her from the font, the buzzing announcing the need of her presence, the cold air embracing her in a journey. How strange was to feel the rush of something new, the pump she would feel when galloping in a fine horse, coming from the mere thought of placing her hands in some old stone.
Peggy was facing the font, her hands holding the air in front of her. Her fingers itched for the touch of the cold stone, the porosity she would feel under her digits, the dampness that would came in contact to her soft skin. It was an overwhelming sensation, that forced her body forward in slow motion, against all of her rational thoughts, powered by the irrational notion that her destiny laid behind that rock.
So, she placed her hands over the stone and fell.
Chapter 4: Love as an accident
“William, dear.” Called her aunt from the stairs. “Fetch my coat, we are going on a walk.”
He raised his head from the pillow, his tongue dry and heavy from the excessive drinking last night. He blinked for a moment or two, staring at the door in the half darkness of his chamber. Then he placed his head on the pillow, closing his eyes once again, in a hangover bliss, until he heard a loud knock coming from his door.
Willie was only able to put on his boots and cover his shirt with an unbuttoned waistcoat, avoiding the desperate attempts of his steward to help him properly. His steps were somewhat miscalculated and he had to stop by a vase to throw up everything that he had drank.
Minnie was already by the door, blond hair covered by a lacy cap and a nice satin blue dress, with little white flowers. It was a different print and he thought that, perhaps, his uncle had bought the fabric for his aunt in America. It matched her eyes.
“Oh, thank you.” She said turning her back to him, as he placed the cape of her shoulders and gave her his arm.
They walked in the fresh morning air, still in silence, while Willie fought the urge to throw up once more. The sun had just risen in the horizon and the birds were flying in the sky, their babble filling the air with gentle and musical sounds. The grass was covered in dew and due to the cold weather, some early flowers were covered in frost.
“You seem a little tired, dearly.” His aunt said, in a sweet voice. “You had trouble sleeping?”
Well, Willie thought. Sleeping was easy, once he drank the full bottle of brandy.
“Yes.” He decided to answer, avoiding to give the old lady some palpitations in her heart that could lead to disaster. The doctor in the village was a nice man but without the means to help someone having a heart attack.
“I gather it was because of our little talk yesterday?”
Well, Willie thought. In parts. He had been upset about the whole sordid affair of his family for more than a year and talking to someone that was not part of it gave him some thigs to think of. Especially about things he wished he could forget.
“Yes.” He decided to answer.
“I know that you want to move away from the earldom and live your life. I even understand your reasons.” Said his aunt, turning her blue gaze to him. “I will have a small chat with your father when he comes back. He should have told you everything as soon you turned 18.”
She paused, looking to the other side, raising her hand to feel some leaves near her.
“Well, the past is in the past and there’s nothing we can do about it.” She continued, walking without hurry. She was taking both of them to the path leading to the old monastery. William thought about telling her that, which would made her change her course, but she continued: “I truly believe that selling the lands and living as a hermit would do you no good. This will not change the events that culminated in your birth, dear. Or the fact that many people lied to you during the years.”
“Aunt Minnie, you don’t understand.” He answered in a low voice, gently taking from her way a branch.
“Of course, I don’t. It’s very difficult to meet bastards from Scottish prisoners that were heirs to earldoms from an early age.” Her eyes were shining in a way that made William understand a bit what made uncle Hal fall in love with her. “However, I may be one of the most practical people in our family.”
This was definitely true. How many times his father or his uncle went to Lady Minerva for advices? The woman had an encyclopedic knowledge and a strange ability to take information from others.
Which was quite nerve wracking for a child prone to misdeeds, if you think about that.
“I believe you could and you must use the estate and the title as a way to mark a new earldom, a new beginning, a new you.” She said. “You are still reflections of all the men in your life, Willie. Who are you, truly?”
Before he could answer, he saw something. A pale blue point, inside the ruins of the monastery. He stopped at the edge of the construction, watching it. It seemed like fabric, a kind of gauze, half transparent under the bright blue sky. And then he saw the pink hue of flesh.
“Stay here, Aunt Minnie.” He asked, as he approached carefully the interior of the monastery.
As he got closer, he could see the mass of brown hair, the fabric around the body, the tiny hands spread over the grass. He kneeled by the person’s side and placed a hand gently over the pink skin, warm and soft. He pulled the chocolate locks from the face and saw a sleeping girl, young and pretty, despite of the tincture used over her skin. He saw her eyelids trembling and the eyes slowly opening, confused and them more certain, as she stared right at him and murmured:
It wasn’t James, she soon noticed. The coloring was all wrong: the man over her had brown hair, cascading over his temples, down until his shoulders, much longer than James, whose deep auburn hair was always short and spiked.
But the eyes… They were James eyes. Quite feline, deep blue and slanted, the eyes of a predator. Or a very handsome man.
“It’s a girl! Is she alright?” Asked a woman’s voice near her and soon she felt delicate hands touching her hand.
“Aunt Minnie, please. I’ve asked you to stay down the road. It could have been dangerous.” Said the man again, with a deep voice, that made her skin tingle.
Peggy saw a blonde woman, a bit older than she expected, blue and gentle eyes over her, a worried frown over her face. And he was there, the handsome man, that looked like Jamie but wasn’t him. Was he a cousin? Maybe forgotten in a dark branch of the Ransom family tree?
“You’re not Jamie.” She whispered, with her tongue heavy.
He chuckled, a nice sound, that made her question her sanity and imagine if she could have a word with James later about the proposal. Not that she reconsidered marrying her best friend… But perhaps this man was available?
“Indeed, I’m not, miss.” He answered, his eyes shining in a manner that made her heart flutter.
Silly, silly Peggs.
“Oh, look, Willie!” Said the older woman by her side. “She’s bleeding!”
Peggy felt hands behind her head and grimaced with pain, as they touched the whole circumference with care. She closed her eyes, trying to suppress the urge to vomit or scream. Maybe both.
Willie. He was named William.
“We need to take her back to Ellesmere Park!” Said the woman, panic in her voice. “And fetch a doctor, with haste!”
“What? Are you insane, Aunt Minnie?” Willie complained. “We don’t know her! I can’t place a stranger inside my house?”
Peggy saw Minnie raise one very blonde eyebrow straight at her nephew and, with a voice filled with mockery, say:
“Well, not very long ago, you were considering get rid of the state. What made you change your mind?”
William rolled his eyes at his own aunt, something that, if Peggy did with old Lady Clarice, she would get a severe reprimand. Or maybe a pillow or two thrown at her.
Lady Clarice was not in the world for leisure.
“If you insist.” He said and then, with a much lower voice, that she still could hear, added: “But I wonder if you would insist to take the stranger inside your house if you knew she was a loose woman.”
He called her a… WHAT?
“A loose woman?” Minnie exclaimed, looking at the girl, still laying on the floor. “Are you sure, Willie? What a prostitute would be doing here?”
How dare he?
“I’m no whore!” She complained, looking straight to that very handsome but very rude man. Who he thinks he is to talk to her like that? “I’m Lady Margareth Bedwyn and I’m certainly no whore. No matter whatever you’ve heard yesterday.”
William stared at her, eyebrows high in his forehead and a wicked smile in his lips. Surely, he was not used to people screaming at him. Maybe he was one of James cousins from York. They were very posh and very annoying, always claiming to be related to the Earl and being known for living of gambles and strange schemes.
How could she fancy such a man?
“I’m terribly sorry, Miss… Bedwyn. Now, may I take you on a ride?”
William was watching the fields behind the window, as he waited for Doctor Blydon leave Miss Bedwyn’s room. He has attended their call very quickly, especially, William thought, when he saw that was a servant from Ellesmere knocking in his door so early in the morning.
Soon, he heard a sound and turned, to see the good doctor and aunt Minnie leaving in a sealed silence.
“She will be fine, milord.” Said the man, cleaning his spectacles in his scarf. “She got a big bump in her head and it didn’t have the need to be stitched. I gave her something for the headache and I informed Lady Melton that she will be ready to go by tomorrow. Perhaps she will be a bit confused, during the next few days, but surely this will not be forever.”
“Thank you, Doctor Blydon. You’re an angel. Would you care for some tea? Maybe a lemonade?” Said Minerva, with a gentle smile.
“No, ma’am. I believe I must go. Mrs. Watson is expecting and I’m waiting her first sign of labour. I must be ready.” He said, bowing to them, and following a servant to the door.
They waited for the doctor to disappear on the corridor and started to talk in hushed tones.
“We can’t let her go, Willie.”
“You’re definitely crazy, Aunt Minnie. I’m not a house of good will! I can’t let unknown ladies stay here as long as they want.” William hissed, looking at the door.
“She’s not an unknow lady.” Minerva said. “Her name is Margareth Bedwyn and she is a lady. This is enough reason for you to act as a gentleman and help her.”
“Can’t you see? That’s the only thing we know about her. We don’t know where she came from, who are her parents, what she was doing collapsed in my lands.”
“Enough with that. I understood your point previously.” He placed a hand over his eyes. “I’m just saying that we can’t trust her. She could have vile intentions.”
“Vile intentions? That girl?” It seemed like Minerva would explode in anger, her pale face getting redder and redder. “She is confused and alone, in strange lands. I’ve asked Doctor Blydon and he said that he did not attended even once a family named Bedwyn in this region. And you very well know that Doctor Blydon even attends lands in the Scottish frontier.”
“So, she is not from here. And now what? You’re going to adopt the girl, put her under your wing and change her name to Margareth Grey? If her name is indeed Margareth!”
They stared at each other in silence, adjusting to the options that they had over them. They could wait until tomorrow and send her on her way, whatever way it is. They could try to help her and see if the tavern nearby has a need for a maid.
Or… or they could help her find her family. They could trust her and her story and fetch all the Bedwyns in one hundred miles range.
“I fear for her, Willie.” Said Aunt Minnie in a whisper. “I’ve seen things in my life, things that I dare I will never forget.”
He turned his head to the woman, approaching him slowly, eyes fixed in the lands behind the glass window. She seemed tired, for the first time in her life and scared, the color drained from her cheeks and the once bright blond hair appearing lifeless and yellow under her cap.
“To be a woman, alone in the world, is a terrible thing, dear.” She whispered. “Sometimes, even surrounded by people, you found yourself alone, without anyone to help you. And what we do? We can’t work without fearing the touch of your employee. We can’t own lands, buildings or businesses. We are property.”
He felt his throat dry, as she continued to say.
“I’ve seen women praying for their husbands to die, just to have peace. The life of a widow is easier, you know. I’ve seen women changing their faith to be in convents with other women, to be protected from unsolicited touches and looks by the presence of God. I’ve seen women dying in child bed, trying to make their work as a wife, as a property, and give her husband an heir, when all she could make were girls.”
She looked at him, bright blue eyes, shining with memories in its irises. Her lips were bright red, when she started to say:
“I’ve seen girls suffer in the hands of their parents. I’ve seen girls being sold for a title or lands, married to much older men or sickly ones. I’ve seen families so deep down in debts, that they would take their older daughter, a maid still, put her in nice clothes, makeup over her cheeks and place her in a chamber, where men, gentlemen, would enter and leave every time.”
“Do you think that’s what happened to her?” He dared to ask.
“I do not know and I dare not ask. She seems confused and groggy due to the bump in her head and Doctor Blydon said she would be like this for some days still. I’ve seen her hands, Willie. They are soft and tender, like a lady’s. I know when someone is lying and I know she is Lady Margareth. And I will help her.”
“What is your plan, Auntie?”
“I think I need to take her to London. The season is starting and most of the nobility will be there. If she is indeed a lady Margareth Bedwyn, I will find traces of her family there and I will have a little chat, to determine if what I fear is true.”
“And then what?” Asked William, placing a hand in her aunt’s shoulder. “What if she is indeed in danger? What if she is not a Bedwyn, afterall?”
She stayed in silence for a while, brows furrowed and eyes lost in his.
“She IS a Bedwyn, William. I know and you know. About the future, we will have to see. Maybe she could find happiness in Cumberland. Maybe she could help Doctor Blydon delivering babies. Maybe.” She smiled and he felt courage in every pore.
“Off to London, then?”
“Off to London.”
Chapter 5: Love as a journey
Margareth woke up a little groggy, feeling the sun over her skin. She had that strange feeling, a feeling that tingled her skin and curled her toes. Her heart skipped a beat and she looked around, seeing the ancient furniture all over, remembering, quickly after, she was in Ellesmere Park.
Peggy got up slowly, feeling in her body the tulle of her dress clinging to the sheets. She was sweaty, dirty and with a swelled bump in the back of her head. She pulled the zipper, breathing in joy, feeling the cold air in her skin once again. The girl left the dress in a puddle by the bed, looking towards the other side of the room, where it stood the bathroom door, considering to have a bath.
Dear God, she would love to have a bath.
And maybe after, she could find Minerva and William, to thank them for their help. Maybe not William. She still didn’t forget about his speech, claiming her to be a whore.
Peggy listened to a loud sound coming from where she thought was the bathroom and the sound of water splashing in a surface. Taking the sheet from the bed and placing it over her body, like a Greek tunic, she walked towards the door, slowly, hands over the knob. When she opened the door for the bathroom, there was a tin tub, ancient and quite small, while an army of girls filled it with water, so warm that she could see the steam coming up. One of the girls stopped and said:
“I’m sorry, miss. I thought you were sleeping still.”
“Don’t worry.” Said Peggy, adjusting the sheets over her. “I was looking for the bathroom. I must have opened the wrong door.”
“Bathroom, miss?” Asked the girl from the other side.
“Yes, I wanted to have a bath before going downstairs.”
“Oh.” Said the girl. “Here, miss. I’ve prepared your bath. Come in.”
Prepared a bath?
But Peggy was frozen in her place and had to be led by other maids, who pulled the sheets out of her, helping her get in the tub, where she could only barely sit. She looked from one girl to the other, their hair in a bun, a cap over it, like old paintings.
What the hell was happening?
She tried to speak, but words couldn’t leave her mouth. She only waited, holding her own body, as the army of woman took her panties of, talking in hushed tones with each other, rubbing her with a smelly soap, untangling her hair and washing it over and over again. She saw the makeup dripping from her face, feeling her eyes sting and her head hurt, every time one of girls pulled her hair tighter.
At last, she was surrounded by sheets and pieces of clothing she had never seen in her life. Well, actually, that wasn’t true. She had already seen them, in museums and movies, many times before.
“Wait. Where are my clothes?” Peggy asked, looking around, as the maids placed the chemise, the stays and the stockings, pulling and pushing her hair in a bun, until she was shining in silk and brocade.
Where were all her clothes? Was she hallucinating?
“Your clothes are being washed, miss. Lady Melton lent to you one of her dresses.” Said the girl, placing a handkerchief over Peggy cleavage.
Lady Melton dress? This dress was an antique!
“What are you doing?” Peggy asked, trying to get away from their hands, looking at her body covered in ancient clothing. “Get off me! Get off me!”
“Miss…” Started to say one of the girls, but Peggy interrupted her.
“If this is a joke, I don’t see what is funny about it. I had enough!” She said, walking decisively out of the room, followed by the girls in her heels, shouting for her to stop, to wait, to let them put her shoes on, so delicate and pretty.
She walked through the halls, into the dinner room, where the guests would be having, by now, breakfast. She would make quite a scene, with the 18th century clothes and the army of pranksters still waiting for the final touch.
But who cares?
When she arrived at the room, there was no one there. Actually, no. That’s wrong. There were two people: a woman, the lady who helped her the other day, Minerva, and a man, William, the handsome guy that had found her.
She knew that something was familiar in him, and seeing him get up, dressed in a red uniform, the hair clasped behind his neck, she knew what was it. She has seen him, not so many days ago, in a painting.
The painting of William Ransom, Earl of Ellesmere.
There she was, looking pretty in one of his aunt’s dresses, a pale green that suited her skin, a bit big in the shoulders and very, very long. She was looking pretty surprised as well, as she walked towards him, her full mouth slightly opened, her eyes fixed in him.
“Good morning, Miss Bedwyn.” He said, watching as she stopped her slow walk, a raised eyebrow alone in her forehead.
“William?” She whispered, in a soft, husky voice, that made him tingle. There was something wicked in the way she spoke his name, his real name, and not the courteous way all ladies had to call him Lord Ellesmere. Wicked and delightful.
“I’m so glad you’ve woken, my dear.” Said Minnie by his side, hands clasped in front of her. “You will have time to breakfast before leaving.”
The girl seemed undisturbed by his aunt’s words, as she remained looking at him, her head tilted, like a puppy would do when seeing something that interested it. William felt that awkward feeling that usually he would feel when meeting a noble girl in a party: like he was a prize to be catch or a prey to be killed.
So, you’re a not so innocent victim, are you?
And then, suddenly, she raised her hand and felt his breast, slightly, like she was assuring herself that he was there, really there, in front of her. When her hand touched the red felt fabric over the muscles of his breast, she pulled her hand back, quickly, like she was touching hot embers.
“You are the Earl of Ellesmere?” She asked in that voice, that splendid voice that made his skin aware of her presence.
“And your name is William?”
“Or so my parents have told me.”
“William, Captain of the British Royal Army?”
“Another hit, Miss Bedwyn. Have we ever met?” He said, watching the girl start to walk around the room, looking to the paintings and the vases with a strange interest.
She smiled to him, one eyebrow high in her forehead and the principle of a dimple appearing in the corner of her mouth.
“I highly doubt that, milord.”
She said the last word with a different tone, like she was mocking him in a way. That made him raise his own eyebrow, defying her to say anything out loud. However, a knock came from the door, making all turn and see a small maid, with women shoes in her hands.
“I’m sorry, milady.” She said, bowing in a deep courtesy. “But the Miss… she forgot her shoes.”
He looked at Margareth Bedwyn, standing very still, in that cockish manner that was certainly the cause for her parents to sell her to strangers.
“Yes.” She said, opening the smile and bringing the dimples. “How silly of me.”
So, she went to the chair available for her in the main table, turning it to the side and siting, while reaching out for the shoes. The maid looked disturbed, thinking about the possibility of her mistress to put the heels by herself. She hesitated, looking at Minnie and William for directions, while Miss Bedwyn stood there, seated like a Queen, all dimples and a sardonic smile. Suddenly, possessed by something unknown, maybe the spirits of the monks of the ruined monastery, he took the shoes in his hands and kneeled on front of her and asked:
“Your feet, Miss Bedwyn.”
That made her smile get wider, like a cat watching a little bird nearby. She raised one foot and pulled the skirts slightly, showing the white stockings embroidered with tiny green leaves.
“How charming of you.” She said, eyes shining in wickedness. “How truly enchanting.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“It’s almost as you’re the prince charming and I’m Cinderella.”
“Excuse me?” He said, placing the foot in the ground, now in a tiny heel.
“Oh, perhaps, you only know the French name: Cendrillon.” She pronounced like it was honey in her tongue. Was she flirting with him?
“Are you French, Miss Bedwyn?”
“You are avoiding the subject.”
He raised his head, placing the other foot on the ground, getting up and sitting in front of her on the table. Aunt Minnie watched their exchange muted, her head just bobbing around, as the sharp words were being thrown at each other.
“I’m trying to learn a bit more about my guest.” William said, serving her with tea and some biscuits, while the butler placed a plate with eggs and bacon in front of her. “I only know your name, Miss Bedwyn, and the fact that you have a huge bump behind that beautiful up-do.”
She instantly placed a hand over her hair and wiggled her eyelashes in a cockish manner.
“It’s only fair for me to ask: who are you, Miss Bedwyn?”
She placed her elbow over the table, resting her chin on her hand, the head cocked and the eyes staring at him. She was disturbing him with the way she looked at him, talked to him, blinked to him.
“Well, milord, it’s difficult to tell you who I am when even I do not really know.”
She was dying.
That was the only logical thing to explain what was happening to her.
She had tripped on the stones near the monastery and hit the head in something along the way to the floor. Probably, she was found by Minerva and William and brought to the house. In her delirium, with her body collapsing and the blood flowing freely out of her system, her brain gripped hard to every bit of information it could find, including the picture of William Ransom and her talk with James about his family.
When William got on one knee and helped her put the delicate shoes in her tiny feet, she knew exactly what was happening. Her brain, in a desperate attempt to make her feel happy again after the disaster of the last few months, created a very intricate dream where William Ransom was a mixture of Prince Charming and Mr. Darcy for her personification of Elizabeth Bennet.
After all, she WAS a major in British Literature. It all made complete sense.
So, she behaved as most lady like as she could, enjoying the delicious egg and bacon in her mouth (it was amazing how death could bring reality to a hallucination). Lady Minerva and Lord Ellesmere (it was so funny to think about that) were very worried about her lack of memories, but what could she say?
She was not known for her creativity. The most amazing romantic stories started with a memory loss. It was only fair…
“Don’t be afraid, sweetheart.” Said Lady Minerva in front of her in the carriage, after leaving the breakfast and marching towards the unknown, blue eyes sparkling to her. She looked very much like Emma Thompson and that though made Peggy smile. “I will take care of you.”
She wished she could have said her goodbyes to her parents and her grandmother. Lady Clarice could be a tyrant when she wanted, but had a really great personality. She wished she could have forgiven James for his terrible, terrible plan. That boy loved so much history, that still believed that a marriage proposal would resolve every problem they faced along the way.
A marriage would not free her from certain death, as it seems.
William hadn’t entered behind her, mounting his own horse by the side of the carriage. They were in a steady and slow speed, the trees passing by them, the birds chirping outside the road, the sky so blue that she was sure she was indeed in heaven.
“I know, Lady Minerva. I should be nervous but I’m not.” Answered Peggy. “I confess I’m a bit curious to see what lay beyond this plan.”
The old lady gave her a quizzical look, as she questioned:
“You’ve never been to London, dear?”
London? London was heaven? It couldn’t possibly be. She still had pressed in her brain the enormity of tourists in front of the Buckingham Palace in week days. That certainly wasn’t heaven-like.
“Well, yes.” She answered. “I confess I’m a bit disappointed.”
“Well, I love to stay at the countryside but London during the season is wonderful. I’m sure that I could find you an invitation to the Almack’s. Or to a ball in Brentwood House, they give the best parties of the Season!”
Almack’s? Brentwood House?
Peggy forced her memory, trying to remember where she had seen those places. Jane Austen perhaps mentioned it in one of her novels? Maybe one of the Bronte sisters? No, they wrote mostly about the countryside. She saw that in Downton Abbey?
She tried to force her mind, but the movement was making her sleepy. Was she groggy due to the movement or that was it? The final call? The last breath? Death was like that? Like you’re falling fast asleep, inside a 18th century carriage, as a projection from your hallucinating brain kept talking about parties and balls?
Margareth Bedwyn didn’t fight the urge to close her eyes and rest. She just looked at the old lady in front of her, still talking about the season of her younger daughter, Dorothea, and started to doze off.
She closed her eyes and let it be, just thinking, for about one second, how strange it was, dying in front of Emma Thompson.
So, when she opened her eyes 5 hours later, seeing herself in the middle of a small and crowded village, with Lady Minerva waking her up to see if she wanted to refresh herself, while they changed the horses, there was only one thing in her mind:
Chapter 6: Love as a discovery
“What the actual fuck?” Asked Peggy in a whisper, as she placed her head outside the window from the carriage and watched the busy village of Burnley, or so Lady Minerva informed her. She had been to the city, so many years ago, in one of those trips to Ellesmere. She remembered walking along the park… what was the name…
Towneley Park, wasn’t it? She was walking with Granny Clarice, hand in hand, seeing the old manor in the horizon. Peggy vaguely remembered her grandma saying that the old Lady was a friend of her own Nana and sold the estate many years ago, before the Great War.
Why she would die and go to Burnley? It seemed counterproductive.
William was next to her, seeing the new horses being placed in the carriage. He had taken of the tricorne and his hair was frizzy from the weather and his beautiful boots were stained with mud. Mud that filled the streets and the courtyard where they were waiting outside a pub.
No. It was not a pub. It was a tavern.
Clearly, something wasn’t right, as she could smell sewage and dirt all over, piss and feces, wet animals and people. The noise coming from the people drinking a pint, the sounds coming from…the blacksmith? A loud clatter, in a particular rhythm, that she had never heard in her life. The smoke climbing from the chimneys, the bleating of sheep, the barking of stray dogs… It was too much.
“Oh, it’s a pity that Sir Charles is in London right now. I sure would prefer to rest in Towneley Hall than to stay in an inn somewhere near Buxton.” Complained Lady Minerva.
“Towneley? Towneley Park?” Asked Peggy, raising her head to the old lady.
“Well, yes, dear. Did you know it? You know Sir Charles?”
“I… I don’t know. It’s too far away? Could we drive nearby?” The girl asked, feeling her hands moist in expectation. She didn’t know what waited for her in the old park, but certainly… there must be something, right?
“Oh, dear, no! It’s really close-by. It’s maybe two miles down south.” Lady Minerva said, putting her head outside the window and saying something to her nephew. “We will be right at it in a bit.”
She was right: it was really close from the small village. Soon, she could see the construction, the hall that old Lady O’Hagan had sold so many years ago. And in front of it, should be the War Memorial, to the victims of the 1stWorld War. Her nana had placed poppies near the sculpture, eyes filled with tears. She had an uncle, Mortimer, that died on the war.
Peggy couldn’t see it.
Where it was?
It should have been there.
“Get closer!” She yelled to the coachman, slapping her hand against the ceiling of the carriage.
“I can’t, miss. I will ruin Sir Charles grass!” Screamed the poor man.
“Fine! Stop this carriage!”
The horses hissed and the coach shook, as Lady Minerva let out a yelp. Margareth was too quick for them, opening the carriage door and jumping from the heights, stumbling on the road, grating her hands on the way.
“Miss Bedwyn, what you think you are doing?” Asked William from his horse, as she gathered her skirts and started to run. She ran like she had never ran in her entire life, William in his horse right behind her.
Of course, the horse was faster, blocking her passage.
“Miss Bedwyn, I must insist…” He continued, being interrupted by a distressed Peggy.
“Get out of the way, I have to see!”
“See what?” He asked. “There’s only an estate. Nothing to be seen, really.”
“The war memorial!” She screamed. “The memorial for the 1stWorld War victims! It should be right there, in front of the house. It is a great sculpture, of three men, and two women in bronze. There is a small pound right in front of it. You can see from afar. I remember it! I remember it!”
“Miss Bedwyn, you seem distressed. There’s no such thing in here and Sir Charles doesn’t have the bad taste to have sculptures in front of his manor. All the one’s he has are in a nice hall in his house near St. James and are Greek antiques.” He said, getting out of the horse. “Now, if I may escort you back to the coach…”
She kept looking at the horizon, where once Lady Clarice placed poppies for her dead uncle, where she cried and told her about Peggy’s family history. How could she remember the memorial but not see it? How could she see and smell things that she had never seen in her life? Was she really dead? Was it just a dream? Was she hallucinating? Or…
No. It can’t be. This is something that only existed in sci-fi. Or Doctor Who episodes.
But she couldn’t help herself to ask, in a whisper:
“What year is it?”
Well, it was official.
He had taken inside his home a complete lunatic. She didn’t even blink when she asked him, with a scared look upon her face, what year it was. And she lost her breath entirely when he answered:
“Miss Bedwyn, we are in the year of our Lord 1779.”
He had to take her tiny waist in his hands, as her knees failed. She was oozy and light under his digits. And warm, oh so very warm. Her hands were grabbing the lapels of his jacket, her face pale and frightened.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” She whispered, in a raspy voice that made his skin tingle.
“Miss Bedwyn, I must insist…”
“Please, William. Tell me something, anything, that I don’t know. That I couldn’t ever know.” Her voice broke by the end of the sentence.
“I… Well, my name is William Clarence Henry George Ransom.”
“I already know that. Try again.” Margareth said, blinking fast.
“My mother was Lady Geneva Ransom…”
“Alright… My father was Lord Ludovic Ransom…”
“I was born in 1758…”
“I was raised by Lord John Grey…”
“I HAVE A STEP-MOTHER, OK?”
The silence took over them, in front of Sir Charles manor, as they stared each other in complete silence. Margareth was blinking fast, her knuckles were completely white as she grabbed his jacket to keep herself straight, despite of the firm grasp of his own hand in her waist.
“I didn’t know that.” She only whispered, staring at him, eyes filling with tears.
“Her name is Claire. Claire Fr… Grey. She lives in the colonies, with father.” He answered, almost saying the name of his other father. The Scottish prisoner. “Now, come with me…”
She was mumbling under her breath, mostly nonsense stuff. He would sometimes listen to questionings, comparisons, doubts. She asked herself often how did this happened to her, how this could be true. She kept repeating where, where, where, looking around, until something hit her, making her halt just before climbing back to the coach, where a desperate and confused Lady Minerva waited, arms reaching for the girl.
“The monastery.” She whispered, looking at him, brown eyes shining with tears. “It was the monastery, wasn’t it?”
“I beg your pardon, Miss?” He said, confused, as she started to blink faster, her fingers going again towards him, hands clasped in his shoulders.
“I need to go back to the old monastery, William.” She said, saying his name in that intimate way that made him flush. “I need to go back to Ellesmere Park.”
“We can’t, Miss Bedwyn.” He answered, taking her hands from his shoulders and trying to put her inside the coach. She fought, the little devil. “We are too far away from my estate. I need to take you to London.”
“You don’t understand.” She pleaded. “I don’t belong here! It has been a mistake. I was not supposed to be here.”
“You’re saying that your family is not from here, Miss Bedwyn?” William asked, confused, seeing the pain behind those huge brown eyes. “Are you not a Lady after all?”
“No!” She exclaimed, munching her lower lip in frustration. “I have to go, William. I have to find my family.”
He exhaled, finally understanding what this was all about. Probably the memories were coming back and she was certainly afraid of whatever she remembered. But she needed her family. She was longing for them.
“Hush, hush, now.” He comforted her, as Lady Minerva pulled her gently towards the interior of the coach. “We will find them for you. Me and Lady Minerva. I promise you. I will go directly to London to find them. I promise you this.”
“No, William, no!” She cried, tears rolling down her beautiful creamy white cheeks. “You don’t understand! The stones! I need the stones to go back!”
“Hush, darling. Everything will be alright. Don’t be scared…” Murmured, softly, aunt Minnie, holding the girl in her arms, feeling her tremble with tears. Miss Bedwyn could no longer say what she was feeling, as only gasps left her tiny body. Lady Minerva raised her head and whispered: “Will you truly find her family, Willie darling?”
William shook his head, watching at the pretty girl in his aunt’s arms, that knew an awful lot about himself, despite they never meeting face to face. Something wasn’t right about her, he knew. And the only way to discover the truth was by finding her parents.
And then, what would he do?
“I will certainly try, Aunt Minnie.” He answered, kicking his horse.
Peggy spent the rest of the three days journey to London in a catatonic state. Her mind was still fighting with the sudden notion that she had travelled to the past, like she would see every Sunday on BBC, with her parents. Maybe they were aliens, as well. Who knows?
She cried during most of the first day and night, being comforted by Lady Minerva, who laid by her side in her bed at the inn, holding her tightly against her body, murmuring soft words against her hair, until she slept, dehydrated and exhausted from weeping during most of the night.
The other day of travelling, she was just silent. She remained completely quiet, feeling the movement of the carriage, watching Lady Minerva in front of her, looking through the window with a gentle smile on her face, sometimes asking her things, with a soft and calm voice. She could barely answer, her mind racing in plans and projections.
One thing she was sure: the monastery was the one that took her there. If it snatched her out of the 21th century, it could certainly place her back there.
Now, how could she come back?
So, she spent most of the night of her second day of travelling thinking about how she could run away from her travel party (including Lady Minerva, the coachman, the valet and the maid), go back nearly 200 miles to Cumberland, enter in someone else’s estate without being invited and place her hands on the old font.
She didn’t even know if she just placed the hands over it or said magic words that activated the teleportation option of the baptismal font without being aware of. She would never get away of that time.
By the last day, she had a plan prepared: first of all, she needed to get the trust of Lady Minerva and William. She has been acting like a lunatic for the last few days and they certainly knew that something wasn’t right. Especially considering that they had found her unconscious over some ruins.
Now, after that, she would try to convince them to let her to go back to Cumberland. That was relatively easy: they were trying to find her family, just to return the problem named Margareth Bedwyn to the right owners. However, even if there was a family named Bedwyn in the 18thcentury, surely, they would never recognize her as part of the clan. She is a Jane Doe, after all.
After this great disappointment, she would ask for mercy, a place to stay, or to work. Make her living. Maybe William could employ her. Maybe he knew of someone hiring maids on the village near Ellesmere Park.
She would be very grateful.
And she would go back there, work for a few days, just to be sure of where she is and how to get near the ruins… And then… Well, she would get back home.
“Here it is, dear.” Said Lady Minerva, taking her away from her thoughts. “London.”
It was crowded, filthy and noisy. Everything she imagined it to be and, at the same time, dreaded it to be. The experience to smell and feel the city as it was in the end of the 18thcentury would certainly ruin every Austen book for her, from now on. It was a city that, merely from its existence, would destroy every chance of someone falling in love.
“It’s lovely.” She lied, smiling to Lady Minerva.
The good lady hadn’t asked her many questions since her meltdown in Burley. Now, Peggy was sure that something was coming for her and she needed to think fast. She must have a story, something sordid and romantic, to explain how she was found unconscious over the stones.
No. Nothing like that. She needed to stick with the truth, as long as she could. It was simpler and maybe foolproof. Especially considering that the Doctor said she would have some problems remembering what happened to her during the next few days. And she admitted to them she didn’t know exactly who she was.
Ok. So. What happened?
She was Lady Margareth Bedwyn, a younger daughter of a noble man called Bedwyn - she couldn’t remember his name, unfortunately. Or his rank. She was promised to a man named James and ran away in the middle of the night, while going towards his farm, in the Scottish glens.
Yeah! You go, Peggy!
She was walking towards the village, a little lost, when she tripped over the stones in the ancient monastery and fell. She couldn’t remember exactly some details about this man or her family, but she knows that she was terribly afraid of James and she needs to live far away from all of them.
Well, that should be easy.
On the window, she saw a beautiful stone manor coming into view, a little set back from the road, surrounded by trees and bushes, in a quiet street, away from most of the city’s buzzing.
“This is Argus House, dear.” Lady Minerva said. “My home and your house.”
“We need to call off the search party, Jamie.” Said Lord Ian, softly, to his son. It was dark already, but they could see in the distance the lanterns of the search groups, the shouts of men and the barks of dogs.
“I need to find her, dad.” Whispered Jamie, feeling so, so tired.
Lady Clarice was admitted to the hospital after having a heart attack. The weight of her granddaughter disappearance was too much, especially after that horrible video. Lady Helen and Lord Piers were already in Ellesmere, eyes tired and tearless.
“It has been 5 days, Jamie.”
Jamie turned to his father and said, voice filled with grief:
“People just don’t disappear like that, dad. She is here, somewhere. I can feel her.”
Chapter 7: Love as a mystery
“William, my boy!” Said old Lord Ashbourne. “You’re back from the colonies! Have you grown tired of playing tin soldier?”
Willie was at the White’s, having a drink and playing cards for what felt like years. Since his arrival in the city, resting just for one day at Ellesmere House, he had been roaming around town, spending money and talking to old lords about a family called Bedwyn.
And, after five days like that, he was certain that there wasn’t such a family in England. Or Wales. Or Scotland. Or even Ireland.
“I’m on leave, Lord Arthur.” Said the boy, stretching on his seat. “I will be in town for two months. And then I will go back to the colonies, to play soldier a little more.”
“Oh, William.” Said the old man, arranging his powdered wig in his head. “I know that your family is filled to the brim with soldiers and captains… But you should sell your commission and take your place in the House of Lords. You are an earl, after all. You should be worried about balls and girls and not war.”
William smiled to the old man, as he finished his brandy.
“I have other things to worry about that are not related to the colonies, milord.” He paused. “As a matter of fact, I believe you could help me.”
This brought life back to the man, that perhaps have been sitting on the same chair at White’s since its inauguration, a hundred years earlier.
“I’m your servant, my boy. What do you need?”
“I’m searching for a family named Bedwyn. Nobles, I suspect.” Said William, watching the footman fill his glass with more brandy. It was not even noon yet and he was already a bit drunk.
“Bedwyn, you say? A family from nobility?” Lord Arthur asked, scratching his wig. “Old nobility or new?”
“I do not even now if they exist, Lord Arthur.” Said Willie, taking a sip from his cup. “You’ve been attending White’s since always, like your father, that founded the place. If you don’t know a Bedwyn family, I can cease and desist.”
“Well…” Started the man, appearing to be a bit ashamed. “Yes, I do know many of the attendees of the club. But a Bedwyn… Wait! Yes, there was one. However, my boy, I don’t know whatever happened to him.”
“A Bedwyn, Lord Arthur? He was an attendee of the club?”
“Yes! He stopped coming when his older son died, fifteen years ago.” Lord Arthur closed his eyes, tapping on the table. “Lord George Bedwyn. I remember his boy, when he left for the West Indies. Edward was his name. He had bought a sugar plantation in Jamaica.”
“What happened to him?” Asked William, thinking about the boy that went to the Indies.
“Oh, he married a girl. Her father was a gentleman and had a tobacco plantation next to Edward’s. Old George said she was a sight for sore eyes: brunet, petit, with huge brown eyes.” Lord Arthur took the wig of, placing it by their side on the table, leaving his bald scalp undressed. “The business didn’t work out and Edward decided to take his wife and his daughter, that was maybe two or three years old, back to England. They never reached England, or so I was told.”
“Edward was his only son?” Asked William.
“No.” Answered Lord Arthur, drinking blissfully. “He had three daughters, I remember. The three graces. Old George wasn’t a rich man and only a baronet, you see. But every man in England wished to marry one of the graces.”
He smiled, showing wooden teeth.
“One married a French viscount and is in Paris right now. The other died from smallpox, if I recall it correctly. The other… I think she married in the colonies. My memory is not the same, you know.”
“So, it was only Edward and the three graces?”
“He had another boy… I think. He went to the Colonies with the sister when she got married. Never came back. I think he got married there and had some children. He is the heir to the baronet.”
William felt a rush and a disappointment at the same time. Clearly, George Bedwyn couldn’t be the father of Miss Margareth. However, there was indeed a Bedwyn family here. If he could talk to them… Maybe…
“Do you know where Lord Bedwyn lives here in London, Lord Arthur?”
“Oh, my boy, now you got me!” He laughed. “I do not know… However… Do you know Lady Melissa Hunt? She was good friends with George’s wife. Maybe she knows anything about the old hermit.”
William got up, finishing his drink with a motion, and kissing the bald scalp of Ashbourne.
“Thank you, Lord Arthur! I will be forever in your debt!”
“Miss! Please! Wait!” Screamed Bessie, her maid, far behind her.
Peggy was deathly bored. Since they arrived in London, she imagined she would find many things to spend her time and avoid any questions from Lady Minerva. Not only 18thcentury London showed itself incredibly dull, but so Lady Melton. She had rarely spoken to the girl, spending most of her days paying visits to her friends, leaving her unattended in Argus House.
Well. That’s not true: Peggy was constantly surrounded by servants, like Smithers, the butler, Mrs. Higgins, the housekeeper. And the young girl running after her, Bessie, her maid.
However, there wasn’t really anything that she could do while waiting for Lady Minerva. There were books, sure, but most of them were in French, a language she did not have enough knowledge, or really old, at least for her. She wouldn’t dare to read Robison Crusoe one more time. Or Gulliver’s Travels.
She didn’t know how to play properly a harpsichord, being restricted to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Happy Birthday. She couldn’t embroider without sewing her finger on the fabric or draw something that was not clearly cubist. The cook tried to shove her out of the kitchen that same morning, when she, realizing that she had nothing to do, tried to bake a cake.
She spent the last four days in constant agony, humming tunes under her breath, watching the fish pond in the back garden, while waiting for tea, that she would have all by herself. And then she would walk a bit among the orchids in the greenhouse, while waiting to change for supper, where Lady Minerva would just ask her how was her day, while explaining how difficult was to find any traces of Bedwyns in London.
Besides her, of course.
And she would continue this monologue for hours, until she excused herself to sleep, leaving Peggy bored and tired in the sitting room.
“Oh, come on, Bessie!” She screamed. “Walk faster! Stretch those legs of yours!”
She kept walking in a steady rhythm, stretching her legs herself, even though that this was quite difficult with her new clothing. Lady Melton’s maid had adjusted some of her ladyship’s old dresses and now they didn’t draged on the floor, or hanged from her shoulders when she sat. She had also won pairs of old stocking, but not very worn, chemises and bump rolls, that she disliked very much. She also won new stays, measured to fit her completely, that were going to be delivered next week.
It was Mrs. Higgings idea to have a nice walk on Hyde Park. Followed by a maid, of course, she added. It was not proper for a gentle bred girl to be walking on those premises all by herself. She caught the opportunity as fast as she could, waiting anxiously by the door as the housekeeper went to fetch a nice straw hat and a cloak for her, calling Bessie to escort Miss Bedwyn.
Talking about her, where is that girl?
Asked Peggy under her breath, walking and looking behind her back, to see the girl’s silhouette. When Smithers opened the door, letting the fresh air in, she sprinted out without even saying good-bye. And since then, the maid has been barely following behind.
“Really, Bessie, I don’t have all day!” She screamed again, without looking where she was going, as her back was turned behind her. “Mrs. Higgins said that…OOPS!”
She tripped in a stone and stumble to maintain her balance, failing miserably, as she fell on the floor right next to the obstacle. It was a pity that she was walking by the edge of the road, afraid of the horses and carriages constantly coming and going. She not only fell on the floor, but rolled of the rut, barely entering the Serpentine.
The only thing that prevented this were her hands, that grabbed the grass to save her from this wet destiny, and a man in a horse, that left the poor animal by its own, as he carefully slid to her side and took her in his arms.
“Are you alright, Miss…?” Started to say the man, halting in surprise. “Miss Bedwyn! What were you doing?”
Peggy pulled the hat from her eyes and met William Ransom’s sharp blue irises staring back at her, a crooked smile in his face. Her beautiful striped dress must have been dirt with earth and leaves, leaving her in a state of disarray that was definitely palpable.
“You sure do like to save me, Lord Ellesmere.” She gasped, as he placed her back to the stable ground. “Even though the most terrible thing that could have happened to me today was leaving Hyde Park wet as a fish. Thank you.”
He cocked his head to the side and Peggy couldn’t stop noticing how handsome he was, in civil clothing. He wore high boots and tight trousers that left nothing to the imagination. He was young and handsome and he knew it.
“Lord Ellesmere?” He asked. “I thought I was only William for you.”
She blushed, goddammit.
“Unfortunately, I’ve learned that’s quite an improper way to address to your lordship.”
His eyes were still shinning with mockery, listening to her, while surveying the premises. The horse was still waiting for its master, munching grass in complete peace. Carriages and riders passed by them, tapping the brim of their hats in salutation.
“I would have imagined that the same person that informed you of this, would have told you that’s incredibly improper to roam Hyde Park without an escort…” He started to say, being interrupted by a livid Peggy.
“Well, as a matter of fact…”
“Miss! Here you are! Please, don’t run away like this!” Exclaimed a very red and very tired Bessie, walking towards them. “Whatever happened to you? You’re filthy!”
Peggy raise one eyebrow like she was saying: See, I was being proper.
That made him chuckle and present her his arm:
“I was going to pay a visit to aunt Minnie. Could I escort you back home, Miss Bedwyn?”
William looked at Miss Bedwyn. Margareth. She was using a straw heat with blue ribbons tied under the chin, a striped white and blue dress that finally fitted her, a bright blue cape and a handkerchief covering her bosom. She looked more proper and girly than ever. And beautiful, with her eyes shining under the spring sun, the hair falling from the up-do in waves and her cheeks rosy from the exercise.
Samson complained a little, shaking its head. He didn’t like to walk without a rider, like he was doing right now. However, it was William’s duty to take young Miss Bedwyn back home, safely, as the maid was uncapable of doing so.
“Why are you staring at me, Lord Ellesmere?”
“This, Miss Bedwyn, it’s not a very proper question to be made.” He answered, looking straight to somewhere else, like a boy being caught doing misdeeds.
“Oh.” She said, surprised. “If this is not a proper question, I’m sure that staring at me is not proper either.”
“Touché, Miss Bedwyn.” He laughed, making her giggle as well.
She had an amazing laugh. Oh, Dear God…
“I know that’s very improper to ask this as well, but what made you visit your aunt?” She said, turning her head to him. “We’ve been in the city for more than four days and you didn’t pay her a visit until now.”
“You know what people say about curious cats, Miss Bedwyn?” He asked, trying to make a straight face. She, however, was already with a smirk in her face.
“Fortunately, I’m not a cat.”
“Miss Bedwyn, you have a sharp tongue.” He mildly put. “Not very ladylike.”
“Well, we don’t know yet if I’m a lady, right?” Peggy asked, turning her face from his watch, pulling one violet from the bushes growing near them. “You’ve not found my family yet.”
“Well, you discovered why I’m going to pay aunt Minnie a visit. Clever girl!”
She looked backed him, surprised eyes and a pale face, her cheeks drained from the color they once sported about.
“Don’t patronize me, milord.” She answered in that way that he knew she was mocking of him. “You’ve found my family?”
“Well.” How could he explain. “I’ve found the existence of a Bedwyn family. I, still, do not know if they’re related to you. However, I know someone that could help us finding that. She’s a good friend of Minnie’s. Lady Hunt is her name.”
Margareth stayed in complete silence. She certainly was overwhelmed by the information. Like he once was, when he discovered that his father was not only alive, but in front of him, a Scottish prisoner, brute and red-haired.
“I… I don’t know what to say.”
“There’s no need to be nervous about it.” He said, taking her closely to his body, as a way to comfort her. “Everything will be fine…”
“You say that, Lord Ellesmere, but you don’t really know, do you?” She said, looking him straight is the eyes. “What if they are not my family?”
“Well, we still…” But he was interrupted.
“Still what, Lord Ellesmere?” Margareth asked, a touch of panic in her voice. “If you don’t ever find my family? What if I’m alone in this world? What will become of me?”
The girl had a fairly good point. William have been avoiding this option for many days, while sitting in White’s, waiting for any gentleman appear, saying that he was named Bedwyn and, not only that, but he was the father of Margareth Bedwyn. This was the only option for him: find Margareth a house. A home.
If not with her real family… with who?
“I was thinking…” She started to say, halting nervously to munch her lower lip. “I was thinking about a possibility, if it works with your lordship.”
“What it is, Miss Bedwyn?” he asked, watching her blink many times in a row.
“Well, I could go back to Cumberland.” She said in a small voice. “I could work in Ellesmere Park as a maid, when needed. Or any other great household, as a companion. I could even work at the tavern.”
“Really, Miss Bedwyn!” He complained, stopping their walk to look straight at her. This startled the maid, that was following them close-by. “Even if you are not a noble girl, you’re certainly gentle bred. Look at your hands!”
William took her hands, covered in a kid-glove, in his.
“These were hot made to work hard. They are soft and warm. They deserve to remain this way.” He said, blushing profusely, like a virgin would do, when talking about a woman’s hands.
“I cannot stay in the mercy of strangers, Lord Ellesmere.” She whispered. “I couldn’t allow myself to stay with Lady Melton indefinitely. I need to earn my own money and survive by myself. Please, at least, consider this option.”
He stared at her and, nodding, said:
Chapter 8: Love as hope
She was marching in the library, hearing the heels clap on the floor board. She should have fled when she had the opportunity. Take a stagecoach directly to Cumberland and don’t stop until she got her hands pressed against that damn stone and she could smell electricity.
You would buy your passage how?
She had no money. She had no clothing of her own. She had no jewelry to sell. She didn’t even have the capacity to work for her gains: she didn’t know how to sew or sing and she would be damned if she was caught giving a sponge bath to an old lady. Maybe she could do the dishes.
How long would it take to raise enough money to buy the ticket? How much a kitchen wench earned? Toppings? Dear God, she would stay there for years.
When Lady Hunt, peacefully sitting in the living room at Argus House, told Lady Melton that she, indeed, knew the old Lord Bedwyn and that he usually came to visit her every week for tea, Peggy’s heart dropped. Soon, they were making plans for Minerva, Margareth and William go to Hunt’s Place, meet Bedwyn and confront him with the girl.
I’m fucked. Royally fucked.
She heard a faint sound coming from the living room and she pressed her ear against the door, trying to listen to what they were saying. She was truly waiting for the shouting to start at any minute. To be dragged from the library by her hair and hear lady Minerva, William and lord Bedwyn calling her all the types of things.
Terrible, terrible things.
She couldn’t face the humiliation, especially now she was extremely fond of the old lady. Even, William, that rascal, that once called her a whore… He had a tendency to appear in the worst circumstances, with that bored air that many peers in her old life still used in day to day basis, that’s true. But he considered sending her back to Cumberland.
Was that a scream? Oh God, she hoped that the Lord wasn’t extremely old. The last thing she needed in her shoulders was the weight of someone else’s death, due to shock and horror. Could someone die of fright?
Well, everything would be fine. They would call her and the old lord would stare her right in the eyes and say that he had never saw Peggy in his life. Lady Minerva would be disappointed, of course, but nothing that a little more tea wouldn’t do. William would only nod and taker her back to Argus House, where she hoped he would inform her of her new job.
The last thing she needed was to be taken to the filthy cells, to be considered a liar and a phony.
“You seem stressed.” Said a voice by the corner.
She turned quickly and saw a man, green, sleepy eyes staring at her, a sardonic smirk printed in his face, his body gently resting in one of the bookshelves near a door. He had a book in his hands, where his fingers were gently tapping in harmony.
It wasn’t a question, so she wasn’t obliged to answer. However, he was clearly talking to her and, judging by his fine clothing, from the bottom of his leather shoes to the silk scarf in his neck, he was a gentleman. She tried to retrieve the few pieces of etiquette she learned watching BBC specials, but none had prepared her to this.
“You do not speak, milady?”
There was a question.
“I’m not your lady.”
His smile got wider, his green eyes sparkling against the afternoon sun coming from the windows. She recognized his type, so famous and acclaimed in British literature. He was the type of man that remained untouched in 300 years, claiming the hearts of damsels and the body of women. He was a rascal, after all.
Not any type of rascal, but a rich one, who she usually would meet in Oxford, having lived all his life in a great house by the countryside, going to Eton with royalty, spending money in cars, booze and woman (not in that particular order), being unable to hold a job or be kind to anyone that crossed his path.
Once, she thought that this type of men was restricted to the upper class, the posh people that roamed the halls and clubs in England. Once, she thought she was smarter than this, to fall in love with someone that clearly didn’t care for her. She would find a hard-working man, simple yet sensible, with a lovely accent and a heart of gold.
She was a fool.
“Anthony Hunt, at your service, milady.” He said, in a languid voice that made her tingle slightly. “And may I ask yours?”
“Oh.” She murmured, feeling dumb. “Margareth. Margareth Bedwyn.”
He was getting closer and closer, in that walk so similar to felines. However, he halted in his spot, as the door behind her opened and William called her.
“Lord Bedwyn wants to have a word, Miss Bedwyn.”
“You say her name is Margareth?”
Lord Bedwyn was a short man, with a huge nose and sharp small eyes, like beads. He didn’t use a wig, so common for older man in general, and displayed his very white hair in a low pony tail by his nape. Wrinkles adorned his eyes and his mouth and he grasped with his old knuckles a walking stick, with a lion head on top of it.
“At least, that was what she informed to us, milord.” Said his aunt, in a low voice, serving the tea to the small party. “We found her by some old ruins in William’s estate and she was not only, clearly distressed, but also without memory. Since that day, she has been recovering the memory bit by bit… However, I was too afraid to ask anything to her. She was very worried.”
The old man nodded, taking the cup in his shacking hands, blinking several times in a row.
“I had a son, you see. An heir, a very long time ago.” He whispered, eyes lost in the past. “He was the prettiest baby I ever saw: huge blue eyes, chubby, scarlet cheeks and bright, golden hair. He was a calm child, very respectful and loving. His favorite thing in the world was plants. He would spend his hours by the garden, taking care of his herbs, talking to them, watering them, picking the weed.”
He took another sip from the warm tea and picked a biscuit in his hands.
“I wanted him to study and prepare to be my heir, take care of my property in Wales. We had some grain there but mostly sheep. Maybe, he could have improved our lands, planted some wheat… But no. That was not enough for Edward. He wanted his own world, his own land, his own plants. So, he bought a plantation, deep in Jamaica, where he produced sugar cane. His methods were better than any other and, soon, he was not only producing the plant, but also the sugar and rum.”
“Lord Ashbourne told me he got married. Is that true, sir?” Asked William, avoiding those long silences that the man was used to do. He needed answers, fast.
“Oh, yes.” Said the man. “Not very long after arriving in the land. He would write to me every week. Some days I would receive the same letter twice. He was deathly afraid of his words being lost in the ocean. I remember the day he wrote to me saying he married Elizabeth Brandon. He said she was small and elegant, full lips and very brown eyes, over a very rosy skin. She was the most beautiful woman in the colonies, he said.”
The man opened a smile, something that must be new for him, after so many years.
“He was in love.”
He stood in silence once more and shook his head slightly, trying to take away the memories that were trying to come to his eyes, taking him into paths he wished he could forget.
“And, soon after, they had a child. A girl, named Margareth, in honor of my mother.” He looked at Lady Hunt, sitting by his side. “She looked like Elizabeth, he said.”
“She must have been lovely, George.” Said his friend, nodding.
“Yes. She must. However, I never got to meet her. There was a plague in his plantation and he couldn’t afford the risks to remain in the property and fight for his sugar. So, he sold it and booked passage in a ship going back to England. He, his wife and young Margareth. He told me the name of the vessel, Altair, and said his farewells, for now. The ship never got to the port.”
“The ship sank?” Asked Aunt Minnie.
“No.” The lord answered. “It was found empty, near Cardiff, without his cargo and his crew. Not a sign of my son. Or my daughter-in-law. Or my grandchild.”
He handled the cup to Lady Minerva, asking for more tea.
“I’ve waited and searched for them, but nothing. So, I decided to bury him and his family. I didn’t have the bodies but I had the memories. I needed to put them to rest, so I could look at my other children, that were growing fast. It has been 15 years, Lady Melton, but it still feels like it was yesterday.”
She smiled shyly for the man, watching his eyes glistening with tears. He loved his son and his granddaughter, even though he never saw her. A love that still waited, deep in his heart, dreaming of hope and peace.
“My children are all grown now and far away. One is with Our Lord, in heaven, other is married to a frog, although noble, and my dearest Suzie is in the colonies, taking care of Richard’s children, while he is at war.” He sighed. “I am terribly alone.”
No one dared to speak, waiting for the baronet to say what his heart was craving for, what his soul desired most.
“She would be seventeen now. She would be presented to court and go to balls. If she grew to be a beauty as her mother, she would be receiving all day young gentlemen, donning her with flowers and sonnets. That house would be filled with joy and laughter, ribbons and music.” He paused, raising his bright brown eyes to William. “Margareth, you say. A young woman, lost and without any memory, whatsoever. Could she be mine?”
William urged to not say yes. He was old and broken by great tragedies. The last thing he needed was false hopes.
“I could not say that to you, milord. However, she is here, waiting in the library, next door. Would you like to see her? Talk to her?”
The man stood very still in his armchair, the tea cup inclined in his hands, almost dripping on Lady Hunt’s tapestry. Eyes lost in the past, thinking of a young blond man, married to a brunette beauty, a small baby in their arms, going towards their family, roaring the seas in search for security and stability.
“Yes. Call her, my boy.”
She entered the living room with her heart thundering inside her ribcage. Dear God almighty, she would faint in any minute now. Her only hope was not to hit any furniture, as she hasn’t yet recovered from the bump acquired in the old ruins in Cumberland.
“We shall leave you two.” Said Lady Hunt, motioning for the other guests to leave the chamber as well, giving the broken man and the shy girl some privacy. But the baronet raised his wrinkled hand, clamoring them to stop on their tracks.
“There’s no need, Melissa. You all heard about the secrets I carry deep within my soul. We all shared them. Now, it’s only fair for you to remain here and finish our little adventure together.”
This little speech made her stomach twirl. She was, indeed, royally fucked. That man, clearly, wasn’t impressed by her name or her presence. The requirement he made for all in that room to stay was almost a clamor for them to view how she would be humiliated in public.
Well. Humiliated in public seemed better than thrown in the dungeons. Images of the Tower of London crept through her mind, although, every time she thought about that, she was wearing Elizabethan clothes and didn’t have a head.
Wait. Could she be decapitated? When they stopped doing that in England? She was almost sure that they still hung thieves in the gallows. But decapitation was only for treason, right? And by that time, they already used Madame La Guillotine. Right?
“Come here, girl.” He said, motioning for her to get closer.
Step by step, she approached the old man, cleaning her sweaty palms in her light green dress, a bit old fashioned but fancy. She was almost sure that this was silk, as she felt her hands gliding down the fabric. Indian silk for sure. That was not cheap in any way, especially in the 1700’s…
Calm down. You’re talking nonsense.
She saw him look at her, eyes trailing every inch, from the strands of her hair, to the bridge of her nose, the curve of her mouth, the shadow of her chin, the length of her neck, the broadness of her shoulders, the cinch of her waist, the wideness of her skirts and the point of her shoes.
“Your name is Margareth Bedwyn.” He said.
It was not a question, but Peggy babbled back:
“What were you doing in Cumberland?”
She could have lied. She could have said she didn’t remember. But she answered back.
“Visiting a friend. His name is James.”
“And why were you in Lord Ellesmere’s estate?”
“I was running away. James wanted to marry me, but I didn’t.”
He nodded again, this time, raising his eyes to her, staring deep in her irises.
“And you fell in the stones and bumped your head.”
Well… More or less.
He nodded again, raising his hand for her to get closer. She was, right now, almost face to face to him, being able to smell his scent, musky and manly, a soft brandy and cigar mixed in the bunch.
“Kneel in front of me, my dear.”
She kneeled, feeling sick in her stomach and an urgent desire to throw up all her breakfast. She knew that this was a bad idea. She should have left, she should have stolen some money in the Grey’s manor and entered in the first coach she saw to Cumberland. By now she would be at home, listening to her grandmother complaining about how terribly scared she was, after the girl disappeared for so many days.
She has been with Lady Minerva for nearly two weeks, after all. However, she didn’t know how she got there and didn’t know how time passed in the future. Was everything frozen in time, waiting for her to come back from the stones? Or were they living in parallel with her, worried sick about her disappearance, searching in the woods and nearby cities for the lost lady.
And what if she never got back? What would her parents do? Her grandmother would die of worry! She could be a cold, heartless rag most of the time, but Peggy knew, deep in her heart, that she loved her. And would never sleep until they found her body.
But they wouldn’t ever find it, would they? She would be thrown in the cells for fooling an elderly lord and three hundred years later they would find her remains, while making another underground parking lot on the City.
“You have his nose.” The baronet whispered softly, placing a warm and soft hand in her cheek, tears dropping from his eyes. “My Margareth.”
Chapter 9: Love as a learning
What could she say?
No, sir, I’m a time traveler. You’re, definitely, wrong.
She couldn’t say that! She couldn’t deny being his granddaughter, now that the man recognized her as the other Margareth. So, she just cried tears of joy and let the old man hug her, while the others cheered and congratulated her.
But the tears that were rolling down her face were from despair and hopelessness. Every time she waisted in the past, was more time away from her future and her family. She missed them completely and would sleep with their faces printed in her eyelids.
Now, how could she escape from the arms of Lord Bedwyn, roaming to Cumberland with a one-way ticket?
She glanced at him, smiling at her from the sofa in Bedwyn House. That same day he claimed her as his once lost granddaughter, she moved with all her few belongings to the old manor in Mayfair. She had a room, richly decorated in apricot shades, with a view to Chesterfield Street. For many days, she would receive visits from seamstress and shoemakers, coming and going with fabrics of various shades, laces and ribbons.
Lord Bedwyn wanted to introduce to the court the young and bright lady she was. She would be presented to Queen Charlotte, the wife of the mad King George. The court gown was intricate and a bit old fashioned, as the waistlines were going up a bit, preparing for the Regency period. The wide panniers and high hairdos were some of the things she was getting used to, waiting for the day she would meet, actually meet, two historical figures.
Two dead historical figures.
She was still getting used to the fact she was really there, deep in the past, with the future knowledge creeping in her brain. She knew that King George was clinically insane and that would lead to the Regency period with King George IV.
She knew that the British monarchy would face a succession crisis, until the birth of princess Victoria, the long reigning monarch, that would create an era of her own. Her children and great-grandchildren would be married to other royals and, soon, all the countries in Europe would be connected by the same tiny old lady.
“Mademoiselle! S’il vous plaît! Pay attention!” Screamed Monsieur Henri for what probably was the 15th time that afternoon.
She would be presented in court that same week, followed by a ball in her honor in Bedwyn House. The invitations were already sent, with haste, as the season was already near its end: Parliament sessions would be over by the end of June. If she was intended to be properly presented and welcomed to the society, they must do this quickly.
“I AM paying attention, Monsieur Henri.” Peggy said, scratching her head with the tiny fan in her hand. “It’s just too difficult.”
“We’ve spent the last week on the same dance, Mademoiselle. And the cotillion is a basic movement. However, for the ball, you need to learn the minuet.” He explained, in anger. “And stop scratching your head with this fan.”
She was almost 100% sure that Monsieur Henri was not French. Sometimes, when he was extremely angry with her, his French accent would slip from his tongue and a sharp cockney would come to it, making him blush profusely and storm out of the room.
Apparently, it was very posh to have a French dance instructor.
“Maybe, I can only dance cotillions during the ball.” She answered, throwing the fan next to Lord Bedwyn by the sofa. “We will have more time after.”
“Non, non, non! Vous êtes fous! A ball is always opened by a minuet, where you and your lord grandfather, Lord Bedwyn, will dance together.” He spoke kindly, his hands moving in great circles around him. “You NEED to learn the steps.”
She should have thrown the fan at him.
“Maybe we can simplify the steps?”
“OH MON DIEU.” Said the gentleman, banging his hand by the side of the harpsichord, throwing of guard old Miss Hughes, her manners teacher. “You can’t simply alter a dance, Mademoiselle. Or you learn it, or you don’t.”
She watched the man throwing a tantrum in Lord Bedwyn music room, tired. Dear God, she has been spending all her days like that for a week. Certainly, she was beyond hope whatsoever.
“Alright, jeez. Let’s try this again.” She said, at last. She would do this for Lord Bedwyn, who have been treating her like a motherfucking princess. She had jewels, dresses and shoes. She was having lessons to be a gentle bred lady and dance gracefully. She owned it to him, even though she was waiting for the first opportunity to jump on the first coach to Cumberland and vanish from those lands.
It was a tricky dance, the minuet. It required a LOT of footwork and grace to make it a little less sad. It was slow and boring, with the tiny movements of the feet and the arms going up and down, left to right. Ok, now turn.
Ooops. It was to the other side.
Ok, alright. Now, triangles with the feet, a little jump and…
“Ya have twa left feet, ma’am!” Screamed a not so French Monsieur Henri, storming out of the room for the 7th time that week.
“Now, do you have the flowers, Willie dear?” Asked Aunt Minnie by the door, while the footman knocked.
“I don’t think we need to bring her flowers, Aunt Minnie.” He said, smelling the daffodils in his hands. “It’s a bit… too much, don’t you think?”
“She is my protégée, dear. I was given the honor to present the long-lost Lady Margareth Bedwyn to the high society here in London.” She said, watching the door as it was opened. But it wasn’t the butler whatsoever. Oh no, it was a very mad Monsieur Henri.
All the heads turned to the man, throwing blasphemies to the wind, in a very heavy cockney accent. Wait, Aunt Minnie said he was French…
“Oh, Dear Lord! Not again!” Whispered his aunt, entering through the open door, leaving a flabbergasted footman behind.
“Again?” Whispered back William, following his aunt through the large corridor of Bedwyn House.
“Unfortunately, it appears that Lady Margareth is not the most graceful of dancers…” She whispered, turning on the left and going straight to a great hall, where Lady Margareth stood still with her arms thrown over her head and a tiny foot showing under her skirt.
As she laid eyes on the two, her arms slowly fell to her side and she blushed heavily. How it was possible she was getting prettier day by day?
“Lord Bedwyn, I beg your pardon. We were nearby, buying some flowers and when I looked at theses daffodils, I knew my protégée should have them.” She gently poked William’s side, to make him hand the young girl the flowers, while still watching her with attention.
She blushed even more as she took the flowers on her arms, sniffing them with satisfaction, making her old teacher, Miss Hughes clear her throat. She glanced at the lady, sitting by the harpsichord, and said “Oh!” in a short breath.
“Thank you very much, Lady Melton, Lord Ellesmere.” She did a courtesy. “They are lovely. I shall cherish them very much.”
Maybe, she exaggerated a bit on the acknowledgement, but clearly, for William, at least, she was working hard to be transformed in a proper lady until the next day. Not that she wasn’t a lady, with her posh accent and clear skin. However, she had a sharp tongue and an unnerving way to say his birth name, something she had stopped doing in name of politeness.
“Oh, dear, it is a mere gift to my darling girl.” Said aunt Minnie, dismissing the thanks. She sat by the side of Lord Bedwyn, arranging her skirts around her and turning to the girl: “Everything is ready for tomorrow?”
“Yes, milady.” She said, handling the bouquet to the maid nearby. “The dress was delivered today.”
“That’s splendid! I shall come by at 9. Unfortunately, these events take too long, until we are properly called. They will call your name, saying that I will present you and we will enter the room. You will give a small courtesy and wait to see if the Queen, the King or the Prince say anything.” Aunt Minnie explained. “And I have a feeling that you will catch the Queen’s attention.”
“I hope you’re wrong.” She murmured softly, gently touching the harpsichord. “The last thing I need is to babble nonsense to THE Queen Charlotte.”
“Why? I thought your lessons were going splendid well!” Pointed the old lady, turning to the lord by her side, while Margareth grimaced in obvious pain. “Lord Bedwyn, I have any reasons to be worried?”
“She’s being melodramatic, Lady Melton.” Answered the man. “Miss Hughes told me that she improved significantly since last week and she would be ready for the presentation tomorrow.”
The teacher nodded by the instrument, in agreement, making her pupil let out a weird sound, turning to the others in the room.
“It is very easy to improve from zero.” She went towards Minnie. “I barely know how to courtesy and to say the proper things. However, I refuse to sit without touching my back in the backrest of the chair and I truly believe that those tight stays were a device created to torture woman. It’s not comfortable to have your own breasts pushed against your throat.”
“Margareth, dear…” Whispered old Lord Bedwyn, blushing heavily.
“I am truly sorry, milord, but it is true.” She was angry, eyes shining with life. “And now, Monsieur Henri truly left for good, I think. Apparently, I have two left feet and will never be able to open my own ball.”
She went towards the man, kneeling by his side and taking his hands in hers.
“I was not built for court life, grandfather. I cannot stand any longer. Please, please.” She paused, eyes fixed in his. “Why we don’t go to the countryside? Soon, the season will be over, I will not miss anything, anyway. Let’s go to the Lake District, in vacation.”
There it was, again, the need to go back to Cumberland, an eagerness explicit in her face, like this was the only dream she had in life. It was strange, especially now, that she met her family and they didn’t share the same urge to get back there.
“Fortunately, Lady Margareth, you’re with luck.” Said his aunt, in a cheerful tone. “William is a great dancer. He can teach you the minuet.”
There he was, staring at her in that strange way, like he was analyzing a specimen in a glass vase.
“Two left feet, milady?” He whispered towards her, waiting for Miss Hughes start the music.
“This is none of your business, milord.” She answered back, in a sharp way, making one lonely eyebrow shot in his forehead, intrigued and… pleased?
In truth, she was a great dancer. But she was just not used to that type of dancing. Her father, lord Piers, loved to dance and often would take her mother through graceful spins around the halls, making her laugh with pleasure. The first memory she had of him was… was so long ago! She must have been 5 or 6 years-old, over her father’s feet, being guided to a Straus waltz, like a princess.
Since then, she would be caught in spins and twirls in her father’s arms, being led in dance, having his hand in her back as a flashlight in the darkness.
Oh, how she missed him.
“I missed your sharp tongue, Miss Bedwyn. Welcome back.” He said, bowing towards her, as the music began.
“It’s lady Bedwyn now.” She answered back, taking a deep bow as well.
He raised one hand and their wrists met, in a delicate manner. She could feel his skin briefly next to hers, warm and soft, making her stomach twirl, like it did when hungry. Be still, my belly, she thought.
Now, they would make a movement, tracing a triangle with the right foot and them moving forward, to meet in the center. However, without the touch of a hand reminding her of it, she took a step back with the wrong foot, going away from the earl.
“You are running away, milady.” He commented, going back to his initial position, as Miss Hughes prepared to begin. Again.
“I’ve noticed it.” She whispered, feeling ashamed.
“It’s like a mirror, you see.” He commented, taking a bow once again. “We shall do the movements in symmetry. If you move, I move.”
“You say like it is easy.” She answered back, feeling hot when their wrists touched once again.
“And it is. You just need to stop looking at your own feet and look at me.” He said, moving his feet in a triangular form. She remembered to do the same, gladly.
“If I don’t look at my feet, milord, I will not be able to avoid your own feet.” She pointed with a chuckle, as they managed to step back from each other with success.
“I promise to you: You will not step on my feet.” He said, taking her hand in his, warm and strong under her digits, as they got closer to each other. “Or at least, if you do, I promised I will not make a sound.”
She raised her head back, after watching her shoes move towards his boots. She met his deep blue eyes, so familiar to her and felt that same feeling, the twirl of her insides. Dear God, it had to be forbidden for a man to be this handsome. At least on this century.
She expected for them all to be bald by the age of thirty, skinny or very chubby, pale skin and bad breath. The scars of smallpox showing and maybe one or two without a nose due to syphilis. But here he was, perfect skin and perfect eyes, a smirk fixed in the corner of his mouth, enjoying himself.
Before she could say anything, he was grabbing her hand, and slowly moving around her, eyes fixed on each other. She barely noticed as they changed directions and now, she moved around him, and their wrists met again on top of their heads. Their feet moved in harmony and some graciosity, left to right, turning in difficult movements, the basic knowledge buried in her brain and the instincts acting naturally, moved by the power of one’s gaze.
There she was, smiling to him, as they twirl to the most boring music in the universe, with the most boring steps on the planet, several feet from each other, but with the eyes so locked together that it was like they were closed in a tight embrace.
Oh, stop with this nonsense. You have business to attend. Remember? Cumberland?
However, right now and there, dancing with William Ransom, lord Ellesmere, she couldn’t help to think about his wife, a Margareth Bedwyn as well, her image half hidden by the blur of the charcoal.
Could she be that Margareth?
The music had already stopped, but their hands were still connected, her eyes fixed in his bright blue irises, her fingers holding tight to his, while her body stood waiting, in the tip of her toes, for something.
“Congratulations, Lady Margareth.” He whispered, short of breath, a crooked smile in his face. “You managed to dance the minuet.”
“You are an excellent teacher.” She said, blushing heavily, realizing how flirtatious she sounded.
He watched her very serious, his thumb gently smoothing the skin of her palm. That small movement made her tingle and her heart skip a beat.
“And you’re an excellent student.”
Chapter 10: Love as a ball
“Now, remember: You will bow, wait for anything to be said, bow again and leave. Without turning your back to the monarchs.” Whispered Lady Melton by her ear.
Peggy nodded, feeling the feathers in her powdered hair jingle. It was a monstrous creation that made Lily, her maid, very proud. Her hair was puffed and rolled on the sides, enhanced by strands of hair that were, definitely, not hers. After giving it the right high, size and puffiness, Lily had thrown powder over it, making the look a very shy grey. By the end, she placed the jewelry and feathers, that were mandatory.
The dress, with its huge panniers and very decorated hemline, was of a virginal white and silver, embroidery decorating the petticoat and the velvet train, hanging from her shoulders. She felt like a carnival fair gone wrong, especially with her boobs near her throat due to the tightness of her stays and the choker clasped in her neck. Flounces of lace left her gown by her elbow, giving a strange impression she had three arms in one.
In her feet, silver shoes. In her hand, a white fan.
“Lady Minerva Grey, Duchess of Melton, presenting Lady Minerva Bedwyn, granddaughter of Lord George Bedwyn.” Announced the footman by the door.
Peggy could barely breath properly, as she walked to the throne room in St. James Palace, watching the monarchs appear in front of her. King George wasn’t completely unstable back them and would still attend some events, like court presentations.
He was a chubby little man, with bulgy blue eyes and a triple chin in his face. He looked bored and annoyed, looking everywhere around him, but the girls being presented. With his tight white pants and tight waistcoat, she was expecting a button to jump for freedom and hit her directly in the eye.
By his side, Queen Charlotte smiled at her, looking much prettier than her husband. She had a wide mouth and sparkling eyes, that stared right at the girl. She also wore huge panniers in a white and red gown, with ribbons and ruffles to spare.
Oh, shit! I have to bow.
Peggy gave a courtesy, going as far on the ground as her knees could. She waited, suffering under her own weight. Maybe the daily biscuits were not being very favorable for her physique.
“I hear you’re the long-lost granddaughter of Lord Bedwyn.” Pointed out the Queen, suddenly.
Shit. She didn’t expect that she would talk to them.
“Yes…” Your Grace? Ma’am? Your Highness? Your Majesty? Suddenly, she couldn’t remember even the basics from her own time. “Indeed, I am.”
Lady Melton will kill me.
“I already can see that you will be a nice addition to this season, Lady Margareth.”
“Thank you…” Your Holiness? No, this was for the Pope. But the King was the head of a church, as a matter of fact. Could she…? “Your Majesty.”
Well, it appeared she chose the right term, as the Queen nodded approvingly to her and the King kept looking somewhere else. She gave another bow and, slowly, with her train gathered in one arm and a bouquet of flowers in the other, she gave little step backs, not knowing exactly when to turn her back and walk properly out of the room.
She felt a hand on her elbow and a footman turning her and shoving her inside another room, where a bunch of excited girls and her chaperones waited. They started to babble all at the same time, presenting themselves to her and commenting about the fact that the Queen herself spoke to the girl.
Surely, she would be the belle of the ball until the end of the season.
“It was splendid, my dear.” Commented Lady Melton by her side, as they left the palace to get ready for her own ball. “You started with a complete success.”
“It’s Your Majesty, right?” She whispered, but the older lady didn’t appear to pay attention.
“You certainly need to inform your cousins in America of your success. I talked with Lord Bedwyn and he have been trying to convince his younger son to let him present his other granddaughters to court for ages, now.” She halted, looking at Peggy with an excited smile. “If you tell them about the grandiosity of the event, they would pester their father until all of them would be shipped right back to England.”
“Cousins? I didn’t know I had them.” She murmured under her breath.
“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. Surely your grandfather would tell you about them, soon after your ball.” The lady said, a shy smile in her face. “They live in Halifax, North Carolina. The older girl is called Margareth, as well. I think she might be two or three years younger than you now.”
“Maybe, when Willie go back to the colonies, he could give her letters from you? Wouldn’t that be nice?” Continued the lady. “After all, he is stationed there. He can visit them all the time.”
Could that girl be THE Margareth Bedwyn? This sudden though made Peggy’s heart drop on the floor of the carriage, being thrown outside in the first curve. Which was silly, because she didn’t even like the man.
Or so she insisted.
She shone like a thousand candles. William was mesmerized by Margareth Bedwyn, the new debutant, in her silver brocade dress, the ruffled lace in the hems, the delicate pearl necklace tight to her neck, cascading over her beautiful, pale breasts…
There was something about the girl he couldn’t stop thinking about. Usually, he would avoid her like the plague: she was full of ideas, a sharp tongue and a bad temper. She wasn’t able to act as lady even if she was obliged to do that and he was almost sure she was insane.
But when he took her small hand in his and looked straight in her soft brown eyes, he felt something. Actually, he felt two things: one, very physical, that he tried to forget to not embarrass himself in the middle of the ball and other feeling, something more…
She was crazy and clearly unstable. Full of secrets. That constant yearning to go back to Cumberland. The memory loss even after all those days since the accident. The clothes she was wearing when they found her. The way she walked around town, stretching her legs and feeling like the Queen herself. There was something about her and he felt something compelling him to learn her secrets.
It was probably best for him to stay away from her. He had still to enter in contact with a lawyer, make an inventory of his estate, put the place for selling (including Helwater) and…
What he’s doing here?
Anthony Hunt, his old school chap, back in the day they wore sailor’s trousers. He liked to gamble money and ladies and was known for sleeping with maids and destroying marriages. His bright green eyes, like summer leaves, were the cause for most of the scandals he was involved.
He walked with ease, shaking his cane (something he didn’t had use for) while he walked, his hair in meticulous dark curls, powdered to perfection. He wore a bright green silk ensemble, with a lace scarf in his neck and wrists, drawing so much attention that even his long white socks and his buckled shoes were being observed.
William saw him taking a deep bow in front of Margareth, making her change her gaze from lady Melissa Hunt and Aunt Minerva, to look at the bird of the paradise being presented to her. Anthony took her hand in his and brushed his lips slightly over her skin, in a shocking manner.
Gentlemen, proper gentlemen, could never, ever, touch a woman’s skin in public with their lips.
Margareth blushed gracefully under the candlelight, fanning herself in perfect harmony with his own aunt. She has been learning the art of the fan, something that all women were versed at and could shame a man only by the way she fanned it.
I can’t believe he is flirting with her.
Without thinking, he saw his legs moving by its own design, going towards the two of them, talking pleasantries and flirting in front of half London.
“Hunt.” William said, placing a hand over the bright green jacket. The man turned behind him, with a displeased face, certainly because he was interrupted.
“Ellesmere.” He said, raising an eyebrow and taking his shoulder under the earl’s hand. “Such a long time, right?”
“Indeed, my friend.” He glanced at Margareth, who was avoiding his gaze. “You’ve been presented to Lady Margareth.”
The man turned to his young companion, eyes glistening in wickedness.
“We have met in my aunt’s home.” He said, with a smile. “She was hiding in the library, waiting to meet her grandfather, while I was getting some books to read later.”
“You don’t read.”
Hunt crisped his lips in a pout.
“People change, Ellesmere.” He had that bored look in his face again. “Or are you still that unbearable boy that considered himself the owner of England and its colonies?”
“Lady Margareth don’t want to hear us bickering during her presentation ball.” William blurted, feeling ashamed by his past. “Surely, after dancing with such grace with Lord Bedwyn, she must be in need for a beverage. I will escort her to the lemonade table, Hunt. Excuse us.”
He took her hand in his, feeling the electricity when their fingers touched and tried to lead her to the refreshments, but she stood very still, with her brow furrowed.
“What you think you are doing?” She asked, taking her hand out of his. “I can decide for myself, thank you very much.”
William sighed, tired.
“You don’t understand, Miss Bedwyn.” He looked at his aunt, who was pretending she and Lady Melissa were having a very important conversation, while trying to listen everything. “It’s better for you to follow me.”
She looked angry. Extremely angry.
“And I should follow you why? Because I’m just a girl and you are my knight in shining armor? Excuse me, Lord Ellesmere, I’m very grateful for all you and Lady Melton did for me, but you’re not my owner. I can decide for myself.” She looked at Hunt. “I would love to dance with you, Sir Anthony.”
While spinning around the room in a cotillion, Peggy thought that, maybe, she overreacted earlier.
She liked William and was very grateful to him. However, Lady Melton’s words were being replayed over and over again in her mind. She couldn’t take her thoughts out of the other Peggy Bedwyn, the girl who lived in the colony that William was with his company, so near him, so close, that he could see her all the time.
A girl built for this time. Raised in this century. The granddaughter of a baronet and a nice fit for an earl.
You don’t even like him.
She kept thinking, with no use. Her mind had created something, a future, based on a probability, a drawing and a name written in an old paper.
I don’t even like him.
He was rude and proud. He commanded her around like she was one of his servants and even if she felt something when he took her hand in his (No, you didn’t), she felt so angry. He made her so confuse, all the time. He would rescue her and be a gentleman one day. They would make small jokes with each other. And then he would treat her like garbage in front of London’s nobility.
She wasn’t even considering dancing with Anthony Hunt, with that horrible hair all curly and powdered, those bright clothes and what appeared to be a fake mole over his lip. How she could take him seriously in that outfit? He was so handsome without all that makeup and lace…
The dance finished and Hunt gently took her back to where Lady Melton and Lady Hunt were waiting. He took a deep bow and said that he would like to dance another cotillion with her. She hoped he would forget the promise, just so she wouldn’t see that bright green silk again in her sight.
While the two old ladies were having a friendly chat about old memories, Peggy walked around the refreshment table. It mainly consisted of tea, coffee and lemonade. Oh, Dear God, she thought, what a girl could do to have a little booze in here?
Apparently, it was not proper for unmarried ladies to have champagne in balls.
She felt tired and angry, even though that should have been the event of her season. She felt angry of herself, especially. She has been too long in the past, her life mingling with those old souls.
There was an old story, about a girl that entered a world that was not her own and tried to get back to her life and her parents. But, as everyday went by, she started to forget where she had to go, until the day she looked around and asked herself:
“Why am I on the road?”
And returned to where she began, forgetting about her family and her previous life.
Dear God, I have to go back.
She couldn’t wait much longer. She already had found a family in the 18th century. She made friends and… and there was William. She liked him and she liked Lady Melton, Lady Hunt and Lord Bedwyn. She loved to meet the King and the Queen and, even though she was craving for some alcohol, being on that ball, watching the panniers spinning around the room, was something she would never forget.
She needed to go but she was getting attached. She had to make a plan: something that would not break everyone’s heart in here, especially old Lord Bedwyn’s and that would guarantee that the past stayed as it should.
Well, she clearly wasn’t the right Margareth, even though her mind, sometimes would travel to that picture, the picture of William’s wife, trying to fill the gaps left with her own face. She needed to go back: she wouldn’t be the girl lost in a fairytale, who forgets her true family in search for a dream.
She would go back. And she would never see William again.
For the second time in the same day, her stomach fell to the floor, making her grab a cup of lemonade just to fill her mind with something less sour.
She needed to find William a bride.
Was she right in doing that? Would she be meddling with past events and creating something that would change the course of history for all eternity?
She was not very versed about time travelling and imagined she only had two options, based on Doctor Who and Back to the Future: she could go back to the future and wait for a sheer strike of luck to justify her disappearance for all London society, while still attracting the other Margareth Bedwyn to the arms of William Ransom.
Or, she could arrange her last days in the past, like a dying person, getting everything right before she leaved this earth. Or, at least, the earth in this time.
It was decided then.
She had to send a letter to North Carolina.
Chapter 11: Love as a visit
She had tried to write a letter for the other Margareth. In her mind, it was something along the lines: “Hello, my name is Margareth as well. You can call me Peggy. I’m sending this missive to warn you that I’m your long-lost cousin and that the handsome man that delivered this to you is your future husband. Enjoy!”
However, she realized that something happened during her presentation ball the other day: she was extremely popular. She not only was the belle of the ball during those few hours, but she became the talk of London.
And when she woke up, the day after, to find her living room filled to the brim with roses and young man waiting to pay her a visit, she realized she would have to be quicker with her planning.
She had to leave London as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, she would stay in a sofa, surrounded by boys, talking to her about the most boring subjects or citing sonnets to her.
It was all awful, but the sonnets were the worst part. Usually, there was one or two that had the good taste to cite Shakespeare, always a good call. But the majority of those freckled boys would turn to her and recite poems of their own writing. And, believe her: call that poem was a stretch.
There were some faces that she, unfortunately, saw every day. Little Tobias Bailey, Viscount St John, for example, with his very blond hair and freckles. He could be no more than 16 but swore to Peggy that he was deeply in love, while giving a hug that wasn’t proper. The boy hasn’t been through his growing spree yet, if you know what that means.
There was also Jonathan Madsen, the duke of Argyll, almost in his fifties and, finally, realizing that he needed an heir to the dukedom. He wasn’t bald, yet, or incredibly ugly, but every time he opened his mouth, Peggy felt she would faint due to the terrible smell coming from him.
And there was Anthony Hunt, in a more discreet clothing, that would pay her visit while all the others were already leaving, before lunch. Usually, he would talk with her for hours, without any type of flower in his hands or sonnets in his mouth.
He was a nice fella, even though he liked to stay closer than comfort, talking to her with those sleepy eyes. If she stared too long, she would pass out, like freaking Sleeping Beauty.
He invited her to walks in the park and concerts he would attend, clearly opening a way for courtship between the two of them. Hey, she was a British Literature Major, ok? She knew her regency romances.
That’s why she refused all the invitations, despite being a little curious on why he, a rascal and a dandy, was trying to court her. The last thing she needed in her life, right now, was a 300 years-old boyfriend.
Don’t be hypocritical.
She would think a lot about William, that disappeared from Bedwyn House since the ball. She, of course, would meet with Lady Melton often, to discuss invitations to balls and concerts, while having tea and biscuits in the living room.
They have been invited to a concert with the Smythe-Smith girls and to a great ball, next week, in Lord and Lady Brentwood manor. Apparently, they always did the best soirées in London.
However, the old lady didn’t mention William on those conversations. Not even once.
Stop thinking about him.
She couldn’t, ok? His eyes were pressed in her mind, with that wicked smile and the gentle touch of his fingers as they danced together. Her body trembled just to think of it, which was nonsense, obviously.
She didn’t like William. Lord Ellesmere. They were only friends.
Well, maybe, after the last two days, they could be just acquaintances. For the sake of the other Margareth Bedwyn.
“Lady Margareth.” Said Hardgrave by the door. “A visit.”
She sighed. It was almost time for tea. Incredibly late for a visit, especially of a male type.
“Tell him that I’m not home, Hardgrave, please.”
She turned her attention back to her book, a terrible romance she managed to steel from Lady Melissa. It had a young governess, an injured duke and a jealous bride. It was terrible and amazing at the same time.
“Milady.” Said the butler again, appearing to be uncomfortable. “He insists. And he asked me to give you this.”
The butler went to her and handed her a small box. Opening it, she realized it was a chess set, carved in stone, with the glass pieces lodged in soft red silk.
“A chess set?” She whispered under her breath. “The man gave his card to you, Hardgrave?”
“Yes, miss.” He nodded. “It is the Earl of Ellesmere.”
The only thing William knew was that, after leaving the office of his lawyer, in Covent Garden, he felt miserable. While sitting there, explaining to the much too young man about his intentions of selling all his property and remain living with his army pension until he gracefully died in battlefield or from some injury in a nursing home, he realized his heart was heavy with doubts and uncertainties.
That feeling prompted him outside the office in haste, with a new meeting scheduled for the next week, to finally put the places on the market. With his eyes blurred with many thoughts, he almost didn’t see the beautiful chess set sitting in a window display. Made of stone and glass, it was a beautiful piece, that reminded him of a very different lady as well.
Miss Bedwyn. Stone and glass. Fierceness and delicacy written all over her body.
You’re losing your mind.
“Lord Ellesmere? What you’re doing here?” She asked, watching him enter the room, followed by the butler.
That was the tricky question: he has been avoiding her. Since her debutant ball, where Anthony Hunt took her to a cotillion and made him look like an underaged fool, he dreaded the mere thought of seeing her in front of him again. He didn’t feel sorry for the way he treated her, after all, he was trying to help her to stay away from a rascal.
But he didn’t want to feel her eyes filled with anger once again.
However, now, her eyes were merely curious, one single eyebrow raised in her forehead, demanding answers.
“I saw this set and it reminded me of you.” He blurted.
A shy smile appeared in the corner of her mouth and her eyes sparkled, making his heart lose a beat. What she had that made her so… mesmerizing?
“I don’t play chess, milord.” There it was, the way she said it, like she was mocking him. It was more than that, actually. The word twirled in her tongue, making him want to catch it with his own.
You have been too much time away from a woman’s body…
“Well, it’s never too late to learn…” He said, motioning with his head towards the set.
She looked at the game in her arms, feeling the weight of it in her hands. Gently, she touched the grey stone in the corner, feeling the porosity in her digits and looked back at him.
“I accept your offer. Shall we play it in the garden?” She asked suddenly, something that William was not expecting her to do.
He looked to the butler next to him, that only shrugged, like he was used to the impetuosity of the little lady and opened the door. He didn’t have much time to think, as Margareth was already walking with long steps towards the French doors that led to a small, but comfortable garden.
How could someone so small walk so fast?
“I fear, Lord Ellesmere, that you didn’t tell me why you truly came here in so late hours.” She said, waiting by a rose bush as he approached her.
“I…” He started to say, pausing when the realization hit him. “Wait. What?”
“I’m very glad about the present.” She said, with a shy smile. “However, I have been receiving uncountable visits from young gentlemen here and I noticed that they never, ever, brought me any type of game.”
William pondered for a moment, waiting to see if her teasing was merely rhetorical. As she stared at him, with eagerness, he said:
“Surely, I was taught to always give a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates to a gentle bred lady.”
That made her smile got wider.
“Or you don’t see me as a gentle bred lady, and I respect your opinion about that, or you don’t have the same intentions as the other men that came here.”
He couldn’t help himself to tease her.
“And to what type of intentions you refer to?”
She turned around and kept walking, her hands pressed together in front of the game.
“The marriage kind.” She was a little blushed. “Anyway, I imagine you have something very important to say to me and I bet one pound that it involves Sir Anthony.”
“If you think I’m going to apologize for the way I treated you that day, you are very wrong.” He announced, stomach curled in anger.
“I believe you should go, then.” She answered, with her lips crisped, turning around. He, however, reached for her hand, turning her back to him.
“I will not.”
That made her even madder, pulling her hand from his, despite the electricity that he could feel rushing between their fingers.
“I will teach you to play chess.”
They were sitting by the willow tree, one by the side of the other in a small bench. They were far away from each other, but there was something about his presence that made her feel energized.
You have to focus in Cumberland.
“You’re a very good player.” She whispered, as she looked every piece being pushed over the board by William’s horse.
“My father taught me.” He said, waiting for her movement. “You’re leaving your King helpless.”
“Oh. Yes. Wait.” She scratched her chin and moved a pawn. “Now, Lord Ellesmere, why you don’t like Mr. Hunt?”
“I prefer when you call me William.”
“Lady Minerva told me it’s not proper to call a man by his birth name.” She blushed slightly.
“If you are going to ask these intimate questions, I must insist.”
Peggy raised one eyebrow, but her eyes were sparkling with joy.
“Well, William… Explain to me, then.”
He relaxed a little, playing with a bishop between his thumbs.
“Anthony Hunt is a rascal and a philanderer. He takes women that are not his to take, he gambles his fortune every single day and he drinks until a state of semi consciousness, wearing those horrible bright silks.” He babbled; bright blue eyes fixed in her.
“I truly believe that he has a terrible case of bad taste for clothes.” Peggy joked, taking a small laugh from William.
“Still, he is the heir of Frederick Hunt. When the man dies, it will be Anthony the owner of a particularly large estate and receiver of an income of 20,000 pounds a year.” He started to put the pieces in the velvet box, showing that the game was over for them. “Every season there are mothers in line to present their daughters to him, even though his reputation is tainted with debauchery and vices.”
“And the mothers don’t form a line to you, milord?” She asked, without thinking. “You are the sole heir to an earldom…”
“It has been years since I last met with a noble woman looking for a son in law. They barely remember me. And I don’t care: I don’t intend to marry.” He said sharply, avoiding looking at her. This made her attention get sharper, taking the chess set from his hands and placing on the ground.
“Ever?” She asked, in a low and deep voice.
“Ever.” He answered, looking at her brown eyes. “I don’t intend to enter an unhappy and pointless marriage, where I would have to give up my job and happiness to pop up some kids to inherit a failed estate.”
“Surely I could find you the right woman… I believe I have a cousin, in the Carolinas. Gentle bred, beautiful…” Or Peggy hopped so. “You could remain in the army for as long as you want…”
“I am not interested.” He said, bluntly.
“Really, William…” How could she possibly convince that man to marry the right woman. The woman that would pop children that would pop children until James, her best friend, was born? “You must have a reason to avoid so much this topic.”
He seemed a little hurt by her words and she wished she hadn’t said them. They were closer in the bench, the emotional talk making them bend their heads together and their voices get lower, in whispers.
“I’m selling my property. I’m selling everything. When my leave is over, nothing will be left for the Ransom’s in England. Or anywhere.” He answered, his cheeks blushing slightly under her gaze. “I’ve made my decision, Margareth.”
The way he spoke her name made her loose her breath. He was so close now, his nose almost brushing hers, his eyes a bit closed, looking her through the long eyelashes.
“You can’t sell Ellesmere Park. It’s your home. It will be the home of your children and grand-children.” She whispered, eyes fixed in his, that were a brighter and bluer than Jamie’s. “It’s a very important decision, William. Couldn’t you change your mind someday?”
She could smell his breath and it was warm and citric, something she wasn’t expecting in the 18th century. Her mind tried to bring her back to the original plan, to go back to Cumberland, to go back to her own time and place. She couldn’t get distracted, she couldn’t change the fate of those around her… However… William was so close…
“Maybe if I ever fall in love.” He whispered, taking her chin in his hand and tilting her head towards him.
“Everyone falls in love, William. Especially those who say they will never fall in love.” She whispered, eyes growing wider as she noticed his head so close to hers. But he was no longer looking in her eyes. His gaze was fixed in her lips, his eyes blinking slowly as she licked them with her tongue, moisturizing something that suddenly felt very dry in her mouth.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Bedwyn, but I’m afraid I must do this before I go insane.”
And he kissed her.
Chapter 12: Love as a music
The first time Peggy was kissed, it didn’t go very well. It was summer 2013 and she was 14.
She was the only girl in her class who still haven’t been kissed and she was fine with that. She was waiting for Henry Richards, her classmate and the most handsome boy in the whole school. He was fair and blond, with very bright green eyes and freckles shining over his skin. They weren’t friends but they would constantly make small talk in parties, while he would bury his hands deep in his pockets and she would play with her hair in a way she saw in a movie once.
When her kiss eventually happened, during a pool party, near some bushes that made her scratch herself for three whole days, it was extremely wet and awkward, their lips meeting and teeth crashing together. It was the last and only kiss she shared with Henry Richards.
Since then, she had kissed many different boys. The last one being Liam.
Well, no. Her last kiss was happening right now, in a different century, with her best friend’s great-great-great-grandfather.
And, oh boy, it was her best kiss by far.
His lips were meant to be pressed against hers, warm, soft and moist, gentle and sweet. She let a sigh, faintly, and she felt his hands pressing her against his chest, harder and stronger, urging her lips to open to his wandering tongue, which she did gladly.
He tasted like lemons and tea, the sourness rolling in her tongue, as they tasted each other without fear or shyness. She threw her arms over his neck, closing her eyes and wishing she could die like this, with his lips in hers for all eternity.
However, every good moment must come to an end, and her secret kiss with Lord Ellesmere under the willow tree was reaching this point. After all, it didn’t matter that this was one of the best kisses in her life and she was feeling a nice tingleness starting to spread up her thighs: a little voice started to whisper some things in her head, taking away all her attention from those amazing lips.
She couldn’t surrender herself to him.
She had to leave. She couldn’t stay. It didn’t matter that William Ransom was devilish handsome and the owner of fine lips. She had a family waiting far away in the future, worried sick, while she was being a loose woman. All over again.
That’s why she couldn’t be his Margareth. Peggy was certain that she was returning to her place in the right timeline and would never go back. She missed bathrooms, for God’s sake. She would kill for a toilet.
No. No. She would not diverge from her plan. This was a onetime fling and that’s it. She would stop right now this nonsense, announce that she didn’t have any intentions to allow another kiss in the future and go back to her room, where she would finish that goddamned letter.
Well… Maybe she could wait just a little. He had such a sweet taste… And a nice smell…
No! Focus, Margareth!
“We shouldn’t…” She started to say, pushing him gently away from her.
William Ransom blinked in front of her, his eyelids heavy with… could it be?... desire. His lips were red from the friction of their mouths together and she had to restrain herself from taking his head in her hands, pulling his face towards her.
“I…I…” He started to say, searching for the right words. “I am extremely sorry, milady. I… it was not right…”
“It was lovely… Really… But I…We…” She tried to say, not knowing exactly which were her intentions.
“I understand. I agree.” He nodded, passing his fingers through his hair. “We shouldn’t. We mustn’t… I… I think I have to go now.”
Suddenly, he was already on his feet, adjusting his tricorne in his head, seeming very nervous and uncomfortable about everything that happened.
Did she misinterpret what had happened between them? Did he just kiss her because it was something he would do to any girl? Did he realize it was a foolish thing to do? Kiss the crazy girl he rescued in his estate, nearly a month ago?
“I hope we could remain friends.” She said in one breath, realizing what had left her lips only after the words were said.
He raised his head to her and those sparkling blue eyes shone with something that melted her heart, making it run down her legs.
“Your wish is my command, milady. See you at the Smythe-Smith concert?” He gave her a smile that reconstructed her dripping heart, making it beat faster in her chest.
He still felt her kiss in his lips. She tasted like honey and mint, in a weird but satisfying way. She reacted to his kiss like he hoped she would, like she was yearning for this kiss the same way he yearned, since the moment she called him William for the first time.
Margareth’s body was on fire under his digits, as their lips touch and their tongues met in passion and desire. She would make small sounds, like a purring cat, making him feel things from his waist down that he would rather not feel. No, he liked that feeling but it was better when he could do something about that, like laying her on the grass and pulling her skirts up to her chin…
Would you truly do that to her?
He didn’t dare. She was a debutant, from a noble family. To have her maidenhead violated in a frenetic moment of passion would destroy her reputation and any chances of her getting a nice marriage proposal on the near future.
“You seem very distressed…” Whispered Margareth by his side, brown eyes shining under the candlelight.
“After experiencing the worst concert in your life, I would expect for you to be distressed as well.” He answered, trying to ignore the shy movement of her breast over the neckline of her dress.
“They do this every year?” She whispered back, glancing to the quartet in front of them, where three girls gladly played the instruments and one looked like she would prefer to be drown in the Thames.
The Smythe-Smith girls had passion for music. The same thing could not be said about talent. The best musician was, at most, just mediocre. Gladly, every time a Smythe-Smith girl got married, it was less a player to destroy their ears for the next year.
“If every year is the same, why did you come today?” She asked, closing her eyes as the violinist lost a note.
To meet you, he wished he could answer. Since the kiss, were she pushed him away and asked for them to remain friends, he had been trying to take her away from his mind, without success. After all, how could he forget her kiss?
“I am a slow learner.” He justified. Or at least tried, taking from her lips a jolly laugh.
“What is so funny?” Asked Hunt by her other side, making William roll his eyes. He had been following the girl like a pointer after its prey.
“We were talking about how lovely the girls are. They are very talented.” Joked Margareth, as the violinist lost another note.
Hunt, however, did not notice the jest, and nodded, starting a long monologue about how he was fond of good music. This small lecture made the girl put a grimace in her face, in complete despair, considering that both her ears were being tortured with bad music and an insufferable man.
She caught William looking at her and a smile left her full lips. Pink and perfect, with high arches, they were the nice fit for his. He could feel her smiling true their kiss and he smiled too, sharing that feeling with her.
He wanted to kiss her again and again, until she lost her breath.
No. He wanted more than that.
He wanted to have her, like a man wants a woman. He wanted to feel her naked body under his digits, taste her skin, grab her breasts, kiss the secret parts that she hid under her skirts. William wanted to make her tremble with pleasure, until she was ready and anxious to receive him.
He would take her, with tenderness and deeply, holding her at the end, assuring her that he was there and would never let it go.
“Thanks God! I thought my ears were bleeding by the time they started that Handel piece.” He heard her whisper faintly by his side. Dear Lord, he was thinking about the most improper things right by her side!
“I… Indeed, milady.” He could just think about her damned smile against his lips.
“Lady Margareth, I will fetch you some refreshments. I beg your pardon.” Murmured Hunt, with a deep bow, leaving the two side by side. She smiled at the man leaving, using a terrible bright blue ensemble matching with his powdered hair.
“You said that he is quite the philanderer, but since my debut, Anthony Hunt has been after me like a cat hunting a rat. Hunt is hunting.” She added with a smile, knowing that he liked her teasing. Her eyes sparkled under the candlelight, reminding of him about that day, under the willow tree, as her eyes sparkled with lust as well. “What do you think, Lord Ellesmere?”
“I… Well… Yes.” He was able to say, and, noticing that nothing made any sense, added: “Maybe I need some fresh air by the balcony. I feel like I hold my breath too long to make the concert less painful and, now, I can’t think straight.”
She laughed and got up, giving him her hand.
“I will escort you, milord. I’m afraid you will faint if you do not hold to anything in your way.”
He smiled at her, watching the feather in her hair bob while they walked towards the big balcony, a bit far away from the public eye, but still very proper, as it was lit by torches, avoiding any nook where a pair could find themselves in a tight embrace.
“And I beg you, milord. Breathe deeply: I’ve heard that the girls want to do a second act.”
She wished he could stop staring at her with those deep blue eyes. Every time she looked at him, he was with his eyes fixed in hers, scanning every move and expression she made, looking miserable every time she opened a smile.
Although he agreed about staying friends with her, Peggy had doubts about that: it seemed that William regretted deeply the kiss. Not only the kiss, actually. It seemed like he wished he could avoid her presence altogether.
She should have let him take his air alone. She could have waited in her chair, while Hunt served her with more lemonade or warm tea. If he suffered so much with her presence, she should give him peace and quiet in return.
But she couldn’t.
She was attracted to William Ransom like a moth was attracted to light. She just knew she needed to be by his side.
Oh Margareth, stop with this nonsense.
The balcony was decorated with large orange tree in vases. The plants were in bloom and the scent could be sensed from afar. She stopped by one of the plants, taking a deep breath. It reminded her of childhood and long summer vacations in Spain with her grandparents.
William went to the edge of the balcony, breathing deeply the warm night air. She decided to stay near the orange tree, watching him in all his masculine glory, gleaming under the torches, while the buzzing of secret conversations behind the privacy of those great vases lulled her in a vivid dream.
She faintly noticed William saying something, but she didn’t pay any attention, as she heard the name of Lord Bedwyn in the conversation by the other side of the orange tree.
“… Her dowry is incredible. She is the sole heir of every penny Edward Bedwyn left in that bank since he passed away! He was the biggest plantation owner in the West Indies!” Said the male voice.
“Everyone is talking! You’re always visiting her and escorting her everywhere! You’re courting her and everyone is expecting a proposal by the end of this season! And when this season is over, Anthony, you will discard me like trash, welcoming in your home a fine new toy!”
Margareth lost her breath, as she started to realize who was the man behind the orange tree. Anthony Hunt, who has been after her since the moment he laid his eyes on her in the library… But… How…
“I will not discard you! I need her! You know about my gambling debts! I need her to stay alive!” He whispered, with an anxious voice. “They are after me and I can’t gather the whole sum by the end of the season. It needs to be her. But you will be more comfortable than ever! With jewelry, new horses and a coach just for you.”
“Will I?” The woman whispered gladly. Then, realizing that his plan was not entirely fool proof, she added: “Well, she could not accept your offer, you know…”
“She will. And if not, I can always stain her reputation…”
Oh, that son of a bitch!
She couldn’t believe! That is why he was after her all this time. For her money! No! Not her money. Lord Bedwyn’s money. Good, old, George Bedwyn, with his heart of gold. Anthony probably heard about the not so lost granddaughter of the poor baronet and the incredible dowry that came with her, product of a disaster.
He couldn’t waste time: she was the present sent by God himself, to free him from his gambling debts and provide his lover a better life. Considering he was the sole heir of Lord Hunt, Peggy could also assure him an heir and a spare, guaranteeing the 20,000 pounds and estate that would come with the old lord’s death.
She needed to leave. As soon as possible. She couldn’t allow that man to scam poor Lord Bedwyn, not after she had done that herself. She would make everything right. And find her family.
And leave William.
“Are you alright?” Ellesmere asked, blue eyes filled with worries. “You are extremely pale, milady.”
“Oh, yes. Well, I believe I’m incredibly thirsty, after all. Shall we see if Hunt got my lemonade?” She whispered, taking his arm in hers, pushing her way towards the exit. William, however, stopped the movement, prompting her towards him, worried eyes and all.
“Are you sure, Margareth?” He insisted. “Will you be fine?”
Yes. Everything would be great.
Or so she hoped.
Chapter 13: Love as a dance
The Brentwood manor was illuminated that night. The servants were everywhere, with trays filled with champagne glasses and hors d’oeuvres. An orchestra played in the ballroom, prompting every person to dance in anxious steps, as the debutants smiled shyly through their fans and the spinsters kept an eye in the young bachelors after the young girls.
The old lords played and gambled in several tables next to the ballroom, making fun of those who had to take the women for a dance, while they could have had more luck, drinking brandy, smoking cigars and losing the family fortune.
Tables around the manor were filled with main dishes and entrées, besides the long table dedicated to desserts of all kinds, specially the strawberry macarons, a delight that forced the many guest to line up just to have a small taste.
Peggy touched nervously her hidden pocket, thinking about the money inside it. After many days collecting it, since she debuted in the London society, she had enough to stay three days travelling and sleeping in a tavern, considering breakfast and a light supper.
She had collected every penny left forgotten in the Bedwyn House, as she had, by the end of the week, stolen some directly from Lord Bedwyn purse, hoping he wouldn’t find it missing.
“You look lovely today.” Whispered Anthony Hunt by her side, wearing a terrible bright yellow coat, with matching waistcoat and breeches. He was also wearing that terrible fake mole over his lip and Peggy thought that she could throw up just thinking about it.
“Thank you, Mr. Hunt.” Although she was not wearing her best clothes, she felt amazing. She wore a deep blue dress, maybe a tad darker for a debutant, plain and simple, but with a nice cut and practical sleeves. The stomacher was fixed by buttons inside the bodice, making it easier for her to put it by herself, like her stays with the lacing in the front.
Her cape, waiting for her at the entrance, was lined with wool inside and she was wearing nice, strong boots for riding. She was not wearing any jewels, as she couldn’t return to Lord Bedwyn, after all. The only thing adorning her up-do was a bunch of white roses.
“I hope you could favor me with the cotillion, milady.”
She accepted, giving him her hand and following the steps carefully, an eye fixed on the clock over the fireplace. She had to go by midnight, while everyone was deeply involved by the ball. She would go to Bedwyn House by foot, taking a horse there and traveling the whole day.
She wouldn’t dare to stop in a tavern early, as Lord Bedwyn would notice her absence soon and start a search for his granddaughter. By the time they discover she wasn’t in London anymore, she would be traveling through the stones and no one could ever find her again.
She looked at the man in front of her, handsome and devilish, who forced her to flee, like a thief in the night. Well, as a matter of fact, she could be defined as a thief, right now.
“You dance splendidly.” Hunt whispered in her ear, taking her towards where Lady Minerva and Lady Melissa Hunt were having a nice chat. An elderly gentleman, with and old-fashioned wig and a round belly was by their side, his cheeks flushing with happiness every time one of those great ladies laughed at his jokes.
“Oh, Anthony, here you are!” Exclaimed Lady Melissa, hitting him in with her tiny fan, like a coquette girl. “Let me introduce you to Lord Ashbourne, a good friend of your uncle. His father was the original founder of the White’s, the gentleman’s club.”
“I’m familiar with the club, auntie.” He answered with a forced half smile. “Although I still had not yet had the honor of meeting such a fine gentleman. Lord Ashbourne.”
Lord Ahsbourne smiled, showing those wooden teeth that she only had heard about, vaguely. She was almost certain that an American president had wooden denture. One thing she was certain: she preferred this compared to the ones made using real human teeth, taken from corpses in the gallows.
“Oh! Yes, of course you are familiar with the White’s! Silly me!” Exclaimed Lady Melissa, fanning herself with ecstasy, cheeks flushed and eyes shining in a weird manner. Could she possibly be… drunk? “And may I present you, Lord Ashbourne, Lady Margareth Bedwyn, the granddaughter of Lord Bedwyn.”
“So, you exist!” The old man chanted. “I kept wondering after all those days, imagining if young William had found your family!”
“Do you mean Lord Ellesmere?” Peggy asked, a bit confused.
“Of course!” The man screamed, in a way that reminded her terribly of her real grandfather. Papa Gerald was partially death due to a hunting accident and would scream loudly, imagining that if he couldn’t hear himself, others couldn’t as well.
God, she missed him.
“William stood at the White’s nearly one week searching for your family, my dear. I helped him to find old George Bedwyn, I sure did. You must feel very grateful!”
She stood in shock, watching the old gentleman, with his too large wig and wooden teeth, bright eyes and gentle smile. William spent all those days after their arrival in London searching for her so-called family. Like he said he would.
She heard the clock strike the twelve chimes and she knew, that despite any feelings she had right now, she had to leave.
He couldn’t avoid look at her. Every movement she made, every step she took, it was followed by his gaze.
William never felt so attracted towards someone.
That’s why he felt so enraged as Peggy walked towards the gardens, arm in arm with Anthony Hunt. He could almost hear the gossip the next day, while everyone talked about how young Margareth was a lose woman, walking unescorted in an empty garden, lacking proper illumination and people to make it appropriate.
She had nothing in her head?
“If you may excuse me, milord…” He started to say, being interrupted by old Lord Rokesby.
“Wait, William! Calm down, boy!” He laughed, puffing his cigar. “I was talking about my friend, Colonel Grant. I suspect you know him?”
“Indeed, milord. Colonel Grant promoted me to captain. I’m very thankful, however, I must insist in my leave…” William tried again, looking around him, searching for the dark mass of curls bobbing towards the garden.
“Leave! Yes! He told me you requested a leave. Two months, am I right?” Lord Rokesby continued. “He was very worried, my boy. He wrote to me saying that you had family issues. I hope nothing happened to Lord John…”
Dear God, this man would never stop talking?
“No, milord. My father remains strong as a bull. He is in the colonies right now, serving his king.” Said William, trying to finish this conversation. “I beg you, sir, I need to go…”
“With your uncle Harold, am I correct? Such a fine man, your uncle. And how is your aunt Minerva? Beautiful as ever, I suspect!”
“Indeed, time does not afflict her. She is right next to the refreshments table. Now…” William gave a step towards the door, being interrupted, again, by the constant monologue of the old lord.
“I heard about your cousin Benjamin. So young… War has it, after all…”
“LORD ROKESBY!” William shouted, losing his patience. The old man stared at him with huge and scared eyes, not expecting someone to shout at him for nothing, especially just plain chit chat. “I really must take my leave. Now. If you may excuse me.”
Not waiting for an answer or a long reproach, William walked towards the French doors leading to the garden. It was a nice, warm night, promising a nice summer ahead. Despite the beautiful garden and the nice temperature between the trees, not so many couples ventured outside. Lord and lady Brentwood were famous for serving the best in food, beverages and music all night long, prompting the guests to stay within the walls, enjoying the spectacle.
He wandered through the garden, watching the empty seats, the nooks and corners by the bushes. He was with his heart stuck in his throat, expecting Hunt violating Margareth in every way possible, prompting William to challenge him for a duel, in honor of the poor girl.
However, William found Peggy all by herself, under a window just behind the orchestra, dancing with the shadows, hands up in the air, like she was holding onto something. She spun around in circles, in a different movement he had never saw, humming with the music, eyes closed in delight.
“What are you doing?” He asked, getting closer, prompting the girl to stop her dance mid turn and open her eyes. “Where is Hunt?”
“I… Well… I asked him for a macaron.” She babbled, looking ashamed.
“Do you know he will stay in the line for most of the night, right?” He asked, a smile showing in the corner of his mouth. “I’ve heard that the French chef released a different flavor this year.”
“That’s a pity.” She shrugged, making William laugh out loud. That little devil… “Now, milord, I really must be going.”
She motioned to leave, but William held her hand in his, making her look at the hands intertwined. He could feel his heart beating by a different beat, maybe trying to follow the steps of Margareth’s dance.
“Wait.” He begged. “What you were dancing?”
“Oh, nothing.” She blushed, trying to pull her hand from his. “Miss Hughes taught me some new steps for the Allemande, but I probably did they all wrong…”
“This was not the Allemande, Lady Margareth. Unlike you, I’m a very good dancer and I know how to dance the Allemande. Now. What was it?” He insisted, raising one eyebrow.
She, defiantly, raised one as well.
“Are you suggesting that I’m a bad dancer?”
“Indeed, I am.” He laughed, as her cheeks blushed in anger. “However, you can prove me wrong if you teach me this new dance you invented.”
“I didn’t invent it. I… my fa… I learned it.” She tried to say, eyes focused in the grass under them. “It’s nonsense, really. I should go.”
However, she didn’t move. She didn’t dare, as her eyes laid in his and they stared at each other, so many unsaid things hanging around them, like ghosts.
“If you teach me, you may go.” He added. “Just one dance.”
She had to go now. It was the right moment, after all. She convinced Anthony to grab a macaron for her and she knew he would stay there until morning, considering all the accounts of the last balls organized by Lady Brentwood. Lord Bedwyn was playing cards and Lady Minerva was taking care of a very drunk Lady Hunt.
She wouldn’t be found and she wouldn’t be noticed. She would flee in the night and, several years later, everyone would remember her as a collective dream.
However, as the orchestra played in the warm night, in a very quiet garden, she couldn’t help to close her eyes and waltz alone, the only dance she really knew, being lad by the strong arms of her father, like he did so many times before the Liam fiasco.
And now she was there, placing William’s hand in her waist, while arranging one hand in his strong shoulder and holding tightly to the other.
“This seem a bit… too… close.” He whispered, his face some inches away from her.
Indeed, it was. The waltz, before entering the great British houses in the 19th century, was considered a dance of uncivilized people, as a couple danced with their arms intertwined. A young lady had to have approval from the matrons to dance the waltz with another young man and it was not as close as she learned back in the future.
“Well, you wanted to learn.” She teased, feeling his warm breath in her cheek.
“I still want to. Shall we?” He motioned, waiting for her command.
“Alright. Is fairly easy. You just count 1, 2, 3. These are the steps. Follow me.”
Slowly and awkwardly, she taught him step by step, going one side to the other, out of rhythm. It was different from what he was used to, the stiff movements, the weird counting, the game with the ankles and all. The Waltz, so gracious and lovely, had its own fluidity and secrets.
A pair waltzing usually appeared like they were far up in the clouds, absorbed in each other, like she remembered from her childhood, as her father would grab her mother on those lazy summer days, spinning around the house, the sun shining over a couple ever in love.
Bit by bit, William started to understand the dance, his steps getting boulder and quicker. He started to take charge of the dance and Margareth, gracefully, allowed him to do that. They twisted around the grass, bathed in candlelight, dancing to a music that was not the right one.
She held tighter to William, feeling her shoes slipping in the wet grass under her, afraid of braking that magic that formed between them. He didn’t blink, pulling her closer to his body, warm and strong, allowing her to place her head gently over his chest, hearing his thunderous heartbeat and smelling his scent.
He smelled just like he tasted: citric and sweet, with that undertone of mainly sweat, that made her a bit light-headed.
The music stopped suddenly for them, making William halt in mid spin. She waited a tad more, with her head over his heart, afraid of letting him go and leaving this moment forever. William, gently, touched the roses in her hair and the curls falling by her neck, giving her shivers down her spine and prompting her to look at him, with his face so close to hers, eyes half-closed and lips pressed together.
She knew, from the moment she saw his eyes, what he intended to do. And she didn’t complain or protested, feeling his lips touch hers, with tenderness at first. They touched and roamed, lips feeling each other, tongues tasting, breaths mingling.
And, then, they caught fire, as their tongues touched each other and their lips opened to a strong embrace. Peggy threw her arms around him, fingers twirling in his hair, taking the locks from the grip of the velvet ribbon clasping them. William, in return, pulled her against his own body, hands roaming by her waist, tenderly touching the naked skin by her neck.
They stumbled, looking for balance, in the frenetic search for each other, as Peggy’s back touched the strong surface of a wall, the bricks rubbing against her up-do, the roses collapsing around them and her locks falling over her back. For a moment, their lips parted and William just watched her, with a mesmerized expression, his chestnut brown hair down and his lips swollen with her kisses.
The moment ended abruptly, as she jumped ahead to take his lips back. One of his hands grabbed her locks as the other, gently, touched one breast, making Peggy moan slightly, out of breath. This sound was enough to diverge William’s attention to her throat, spreading kisses around her neck, his hand taking one breast from the confinement of the stays, rubbing the nipple and feeling it already hard with desire.
Peggy was losing herself in that moment, forgetting about her duty, her family and even Jamie, stuck in a future she couldn’t control. The only thing that mattered was William touching her, his lips tracing down her clavicles, her leg trying to embrace his body towards her, the confusion of hands and whispers, in that warm and lovely night.
So, it was quite a shock when a voice came from the darkness:
“William Clarence Henry George Ransom! You better have a good explanation for what is happening here!”
Chapter 14: Love as a duty
“How could you?” Asked Lady Minerva for the 20th time. She was walking up and down the corridor, fanning herself quickly, cheeks flushed like Lady Hunt’s were before the great fiasco.
“I’m extremely sorry, Lady Minerva.” Peggy whispered, adjusting William’s coat over her body.
“Being sorry will not make a difference in your case, Margareth Bedwyn!” The old Lady almost shouted, her blue eyes deep with anger. “How could you? Did I not teach you anything during your stay in my home?”
Peggy knew what she meant. A lady, proper and virginal, could never be alone with a man, particularly in the night, surrounded by darkness and shadows. The debutants wouldn’t know the reason behind this prohibition, as most of them weren’t aware of what happened between a man and a woman in the marriage bed, at least not until the preacher declared them the wife of someone.
She, however, knew, as she experienced many times before, that amazing feeling of touching someone’s naked skin and allowing someone else to feel her too. She knew what was happening when William’s hands rubbed in her nipples, when he placed soft kisses in her clavicles, when the flames engulfed them in passion. She would have allowed him to go deeper…To take her under the night sky filled with bright stars…
“I’m feeling so guilty about it…” Whispered Lady Minerva, collapsing by her side at the bench, looking miserable.
“Oh, please, milady, don’t feel that way. I’m the only one to blame.” Said Peggy, taking Minnie’s hand in hers, reassuring the great lady. Her speech made the woman raise her eyebrows in shock.
“You? My darling girl, I know you’ve the best intentions in this moment, but I assure you, the only one to blame is William, who took advantage of a shy and young debutant in the dead of night!” She announced, shaking her head. “And William is my nephew, you see. I feel responsible, after all…”
“Oh, Lady Minerva, please…” But Peggy couldn’t finish her sentence, as the great lady was still mumbling things.
“We had hopes, see. Me and good old Lord Bedwyn. I knew, since the moment that Willie placed his gaze in you, that you shook something deep inside of him. And I had hope… That he could’ve courted you, despite of the fact that he was certain that he would never marry. That silly, daft boy…”
“Please, milady, I…”
“And, then, you debuted and, Dear Lord, every noble man in London was mesmerized by you. Specially, young Anthony Hunt. He might not have a title yet, but he is the sole heir of the Hunts. A dashing young man. A bit frivolous and a philanderer, but he was enamored. Lord Bedwyn and I were sure that he would propose to you by the end of the season!”
Lady Minerva looked at Peggy with sad eyes, one hand softly touching her cheek.
“You’re a jewel, Margareth. And despite I was very envious of Melissa Hunt to be the one to have you as a daughter, I was happy for you, truly. I had lost my hopes towards you and William. I thought that both of you merely liked each other’s company.”
She took out the hand from Peggy’s cheek, looking vexed at the girl, brows furrowed in her face.
“So, you can imagine how shocked, angry and delighted I was when I caught you two together. There’s not a better feeling in the world then a woman being right about something.”
Peggy laughed at the incongruence of the lady’s speech and her face, which made Minnie laugh as well, eyes melting in two warm pools.
“See, Lady Minerva. Everything is fine. We don’t have to worry about it. Only a slight mistake. William feels sorry about it, I am certainly feeling very sorry about it and I can assure that this will never happen again…” She said, but, for her concern, Minerva shook her head in disagreement.
“Oh, my sweet child. It’s not like that. If I was the only one who saw you two… With Lady Hunt, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Rokesby by my side, I can’t assure you that your secret will be safe within the society.” She pondered, squeezing Peggy’s hand.
“But… but… How could they spread this vicious gossip? Lord Ashbourne and Lady Melissa were so kind to me… They could never do such thing.” She tried to say, feeling her throat dry. “And Lord Rokesby seems like a fine gentleman. He placed William’s coat in my shoulders…I…”
“Darling, I know. Lady Melissa was terribly drunk when we took her to the garden. She was so distressed when she saw you and Willie that she could not stop babbling. If a servant heard the story… Soon, it will be a gossip in every household in town.” The great lady whispered softly.
She was ruined again. How could history keep repeating itself?
William felt like a boy again, with short trousers and running nose. The three gentlemen stood in front of him, looking extremely angry and disappointed. They were right, after all: he took advantage of a naïve debutant during a ball, in the deep of the night, while the others were too distracted to watch them with their vigilant eyes.
Lord Bedwyn was the most distressed of them all, being taken from the gambling tables by a worried Lord Ashbourne, while Lord Rokesby watched William with angry eyes. He had not said a word to the young man, only pronouncing anything by the time George Bedwyn arrived at the room, announcing to the worried man what they had seen in the garden.
When William heard the shocked voice of his aunt, he hugged Margareth tightly, burrowing her behind his body, wishing that Minnie could not get a glimpse of the girl and think that he was sharing his kisses with other woman, maybe a widow of relaxed morals. However, he knew, by the sound of rage that came from her voice, that she had a good look of who was the object of his affection.
Unwillingly, he let Margareth go, still in front of her, watching the disheveled girl, the mass of dark curls falling over her back, her lips red as roses, one breast out of its confinement in the stays, with a very soft pink nipple showing, still hard from his touches. Suddenly, she noticed what he was looking at and placed her hands in front of her breasts, in shame. William took of his coat to help her with her dignity and modesty, but Lord Rokesby was already by their side, shoving William and helping to place the coat over her shoulders.
Lady Melissa was babbling all the time, about the two of them, in tight embrace, about the roses on the grass, his loose hair falling over his face, the marriage proposal Hunt would made by the end of the week. Lord Ashbourne had to place a hysteric Lady Hunt with a servant, running around the ball to fetch the one person that could handle this chaos.
And now, all of them looked straight at him.
“Do you have anything to say, my boy?” Said Lord Ashbourne.
“I’m deeply sorry, milords.” He could be able to take out of his throat. Although it was not true. He enjoyed every minute, touching the lady on fire, feeling amazed at how she responded to his commands, how willing she was about his touch. He didn’t feel sorry. He felt rejoiced.
“Being sorry will not take the stain you placed in my granddaughter’s reputation, Ellesmere.” Said George Bedwyn, looking vexed for the first time in his life.
“I know. I understand.” He continued. “It was not my intention…”
“It was not your intention? You merely found her disheveled in the dark and decided you could help her by pressing her against your body?” Lord Andrew Rokesby snared.
“No, of course not. I indeed kissed her, but…”
“It was not your intention to get caught?” Lord Andrew continued. “You planned to take advantage of a naïve young girl and get away with it, Ellesmere?”
“No, milord, please. I would never do that to Margareth… I… We…” He tried to say, unable find the words.
“Lady Bedwyn for you, boy!” Roared Lord George.
“Please, Andrew, George. Calm down. What is done, is done. We can’t change it.” Said Lord Arthur Ashbourne. “I’m sure William knows what he must do to make amends.”
William knew. This was an old costume, old as the beginning of time. Quite simple to understand its logic as well: a girl, when born, was the propriety of her father. She would grow and be educated, dressed properly and presented to the fine society as his daughter. Then, she would be courted by a gentleman and be proposed marriage. After the marriage, she would stop being the property of her father, transferring to her husband instead.
Now, if a lady is taken advantage of, she is considered damage goods. Her reputation was tarnished and no other man would accept her as his wife now. No one wants a wife with lose morals. So, it was customary for a man, who placed a stain in a woman’s reputation, to take care of it, by claiming her as his wife.
In that way, she would be the proper wife of a proper gentleman, her past misdeeds being forgotten by her new position. This would benefit Margareth in many ways, as she would be protected from the gossip by not only her title as a wife, but as countess of Ellesmere, niece to the Duke and Duchess of Pardloe and daughter in law of Lieutenant Colonel Grey.
Not to forget, daughter in law of a Scottish highlander, smuggler and traitor to the crown. Not one, but three times traitor.
If only George Bedwyn knew he wasn’t who all they think to be…
“Ellesmere, will you not say what you must say?” George Bedwyn asked, watching him with cold eyes.
He had to do that. He couldn’t throw Margareth to the lions and flee from the country, not now that he knew how he yearned to feel her naked skin in his fingers. He couldn’t deny this marriage without destroying his family’s reputation and its character. Although their titles were old and the family was well liked by every noble in the kingdom, they all would see William’s denial not as a brave attempt to save a girl from a past involving prisons, witchcraft, war and betrayal.
They would see as his lack of character.
So, he stood straight, in his military pose, legs opened, arms straight by his sides, his chin up in the air and said what he must.
“Margareth, William wants to have a word.” Her grandfather said, leaving the room with the other old gentleman. They seemed satisfied, after staying there for too long with the poor man. However, if he wanted to talk to her, it meant that he was still alive. That was a good thing, right?
He was there, very still by the fireplace, his hair falling by the side of his face. In the fire light, his locks seemed to gain a reddish tone, reminding her even more of Jamie. She still remembered in her fingers the texture of the locks intertwined, the nice smell that came from them. She wished he could never tie his hair again.
He turned to her, soft blue eyes admiring her, still cozy in his coat, that engulfed her in a soft embrace.
“I hope they were not very rude to you.” She said from a distance, afraid of getting closer to him and falling in his arms once again. She had to remember about the real Margareth and her plans to come back home. She could not have her attention diverged.
“Well, if I caught a daughter of mine in a deep embrace with a young man, I would be rude with him as well.” He said, with a shy smile in the corner of his mouth.
A daughter. She remembered, in the old family tree Jamie showed her so long ago, that William Ransom had a daughter. Not only one, but four girls, with bright and big brown eyes, as it was shown in the portrait. Her names, however… they were locked, deep in her memory somewhere…
“I wanted to talk to you.” He said, turning to her and getting closer.
“You see, Margareth. What we did… it was not right. Definitely, not proper.” He paused, looking worried.
“Oh, William, I’m not mad at you. Don’t worry, I’m fine…” But she was interrupted.
“No. Listen to me first, please.” He paused, taking her hands in his and looking her straight in the eyes. Watching those feline eyes staring back at her made her heart jump a beat, that warm feeling going up her legs once again.
A long silence stood between them for some time, before William said:
“It would be my great honor to make you my wife and countess.”
That was it. The silence stood between them again, as one stared at each other, William looking relieved and Peggy looking flabbergasted.
This made his brows furrow and he release her hands.
“What do you mean by no?” He asked, angrily putting his fisted hands on his hips.
“Well, I will not give you the honor of being my husband.”
He stopped for a moment, unable to speak.
“Are you mad? You can’t refuse my proposal!” He almost yelled, containing the anger that he felt.
“I certainly can and will. No one can force me to marry, specially to a man who don’t want to be married and who definitely is not in love with me.” She answered, crisping her lips and turning her back to him. With no use, as he grabbed her arm and turned her to face him once again.
“You don’t understand. It is not a matter of what you want or what would you like. I’ve stained your reputation and I must deal with it. We must get married.” He said, begging with his eyes for her to agree.
Gulping, unable to contain the urge of throwing herself in his arms, she shook her head.
“My reputation was already damaged when you found me. That’s why a fool proposed to me and I ran away. I don’t need to get a husband who pity me. I refuse this marriage, as well, William. There is nothing you can say that will change my mind.”
He looked at her in disbelief.
“You will let Lord Bedwyn have to deal with the vicious gossip surrounding his granddaughter with lose morals? How about my aunt, that gave you a roof, clothes and food when she could have tossed you away in the streets after you got well? Do you think that the whole English society will not talk ill of her? Of how she allowed you to be a whore?” He roared with anger, making tears build up you her eyes.
“I was not a whore! You wanted me and I wanted you! What is so wrong in that?” She yelled, feeling ashamed of her words at the very moment.
He pulled her towards his arms, feeling his heart rejoice hearing how she wanted him as he wanted her.
“Is it so excruciatingly painful to think about marrying me, then?” He asked, with his muffled voice over her hair. She shook her head in despair.
“You would not understand.” She whispered against his breast.
“Let me understand, Margareth. Please.” He mumbled. “Please.”
Chapter 15: Love as a deal
She couldn’t tell him the truth. Not now. Not after all the days lying and deceiving. Not after he found her a family. Not after all they shared together.
But Peggy had to say something. To make him understand why they couldn’t get married. How that was impossible.
Well, see, you’re destined to marry another woman, named Margareth, who is my cousin…
No, no. Too weird.
Well, as a matter of fact, William, I’m already married…
It could be an option… No, that insufferable, tiresome man would try to find her husband as well. And considering her luck up until now, he would certainly find a poor bastard who married a vanished Margareth Bedwyn…
You see, I can’t stay here…
That was a good beginning.
“I just can’t stay here, William.” She decided, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Here in London? Here in England?” He asked, looking confused.
“I can’t say. William, you need to understand, I can’t tell you. Is a matter of life and death.” Wow, that was deep. Maybe she was watching too many BBC drama series with Nana Clarice.
“What happened to you, Margareth? We never asked because… Aunt Minnie was afraid that thinking about it would hurt you. That’s why you’re not telling me? That’s why you have to leave?” He asked, passing his hand through his hair.
Well, not quite exactly…
“Yes.” She said, adding quickly. “Please, I just can’t tell you anything else.”
He stood very quiet, for a moment, watching her with worried eyes.
“Would you leave Lord Bedwyn? He would be broken, Margareth. He loves you dearly… The man would be devastated… He only found you now!” He exclaimed, his eyes shining with anger and… sadness.
“I know! I didn’t want to go. But it’s the right thing to do. The only thing that I can do to make amends. To save everyone…”
She walked towards the armchair near the fire, glad of the comfort the warmth gave her. William took a seat on the other side, eyes lost in the flames for a very long time. She asked herself what he was thinking: was he considering let her go? Would he be worried about what she said? Would he dare call the police?
Oh. My. God. The last thing she needed was to be arrested. Not now. Not after all she went through.
“I shouldn’t agree with it.” He whispered. “It’s not right and you know it. You shouldn’t leave him.”
She didn’t answer, as she felt she didn’t have to. He was mumbling to himself, deciding what to do.
“We will get married.” He said, adding slowly: “But I will allow you to go, by the end of the month. We will both go to Cumberland and, from there, I will arrange you passage to wherever you need to go. With my blessing and my name’s protection.”
She looked at him, shocked. She never imagined that he would be satisfied with that ridiculous attempt of justifying her actions and her past life. Or that he would go through with that farse of a marriage.
“Why are you doing this? Why you’re agreeing to this marriage? We both know your reasons…” She started to ask but was interrupted.
“Yes, we do. But… I really like your grandfather. It would just be too much for him to listen about all the gossip that will spread around London if you don’t get married and then see you leave soon after. If we marry, he would have at least some peace of mind after you’re gone. Probably I will say that you went to Italy or somewhere in the continent to cure an illness.” He whispered and she saw how hurt he was. How could he? They weren’t in love and he couldn’t possibly be glad to be marrying her.
But she had to think. She couldn’t screw things up. If she did, Jamie wouldn’t be alive and she could afflict Third World War by mistake. She had to guarantee he would, after, marry the right Margareth.
“We can pretend that I’m dead, after. A letter informing of my sickness and how it got worse, something like that. You would be free for a new marriage in the colonies…” She started to say, being interrupted.
“I already told you many times that I do not intend to marry. Well… At least not again.”
She nodded, uncomfortable. She would have to think about a way to convince him of meeting the other Margareth… She was getting up, as he placed one hand over hers, making her body hair tingle in excitement.
“Just one more thing.”
William never thought he would be so devastated because a woman denied his marriage proposal. Considering the last few months of his life and all the lies and subterfuges he had to face, he could just dance a jig and be glad that he would finish this lie forever.
No more Ransoms, no more Ellesmeres. Just peace and quiet, deep in the forests, fighting some enraged settlers and dying a gruesome death.
However, now, thinking about how that beautiful and mesmerizing girl would be out of his life forever made his heart shrink inside of his chest. A life without her smart brown eyes and sweet laugh would be incredibly dull. God, that hurt.
The curiosity was killing him. He just knew that something was off in her story and she was covering for something. Whatever it was, was dark and sad, memories that she wished she could forget, as she ran away from them with eagerness. That was the only reason he could think of to justify her need to leave the country and her new family, abandoning those who were left behind so many years ago.
He needed to know. He couldn’t let her go like that. He couldn’t take her as his wife without knowing what was after her… Maybe… Maybe he could handle that. He could protect her. She didn’t have to leave.
And then what?
They would just stay married? Being the earl and countess of Ellesmere, like the past few months didn’t ever happen?
What if she met his family? Lord John, Uncle Hal, Mother Claire. Even him, the Scottish prisoner.
How could he explain that to her?
“Just one more thing.” Suddenly he heard himself saying that, as he placed one gentle hand over hers. She looked surprised and her cheeks were flushed. God, how he wanted to kiss her again.
Oh, how he loved when she said that. She was mocking him and his title, but dear sweet Jesus, every time she said that, he wished he could kiss her senseless.
“I have only one condition.” She raised one eyebrow in expectation. “I need to know your story.”
“You already know…” She started to say, being interrupted once again.
“No, I don’t. Not the real story, the one that you’re hiding behind subterfuges.” He answered, gently stroking her skin with his fingers. “I need to know, Margareth. I just can’t let you go without being sure that’s the right thing to do.”
“You… I just… It’s complicated.” She finally settled for it, placing her other hand over his stroking fingers. This made him look up, at her gentle brown eyes, shinning with such pain that he wished he could hold her tight enough to take them from her eyes.
“You don’t need to tell me now. Or tomorrow. Or on your wedding day. Or ever. But know, that if you don’t tell me it, I will not let you go, Margareth. I just can’t.” He whispered, taking her hand in his lips, caressing the skin with his own breath, before kissing it gently.
“Why are you doing this?” She whispered as well, over an instinctive moan that came deep from her throat, making him heavy with desire.
Because I fear I will die if I never see you smiling at me again.
However, he just couldn’t say that. There were some things that couldn’t be said or done, for the sake of their new marriage and their new life. She needed to leave the country and he couldn’t take a wife, but here they were, attracted to each other like moths to the light, getting closer and closer until one of them would catch fire and die and terrible death.
“Because I care for you and your family, Margareth.”
She nodded, sad eyes looking straight at him. He could see she wanted to say something, as she smacked her lips together and her eyes passed over him in uncertainty. Would she tell him the truth? Would that be the case?
“Alright, then.” She answered. “I will marry you.”
He nodded, feeling a strange emotion creeping into his soul, something he never experienced before hearing her say those words. He could not explain what it was, as it was deep and quiet, something that got stuck near his stomach, shaking his heart and closing his lungs.
Could it be…?
No. No. Certainly not.
He shook his head, trying to take away those questions from his head. He had to be more objective and focused, if he wanted to make that little plan of them work.
“Tomorrow I will ask for an especial license to the Archbishop. Certainly, we will not have a problem. Probably he would ask for your name and will want to have a little talk to your grandfather, at most. But I think that we should have everything settled by… the end of the week?” Watching her nod sadly, with his heart tight in his chest, he got up and proclaimed: “Let us announce our engagement.”
It was a complete disaster, Peggy thought, as she watched Lady Minerva talking to the seamstress. Minerva had to find, in haste, an atelier with a very good seamstress, able not only of doing her dress for her marriage in a week, but all the paraphernalia she needed in her trousseau.
Things that she will not really need, as she would not stay married for a very long time.
The announcement of her engagement with William was celebrated by most of the nobility in Lord and Lady Blackwood’s ball. Maybe Mr. Hunt, who came running from the desserts table, with his little heels clicking on the wooden floor, was not very thrilled. Indeed, he looked horrified.
Oh, well. There was nothing she could do anymore. Her destiny was sealed by three insufferable men. Better, four insufferable men, as William was part of the scheme, luring her to marry him so she could get away with all… this.
She was expected to be happy as he was helping her with her plan. That was all she needed, since the moment she realized she was in the wrong place and wrong time. It was her plan all along: run away from the Bedwyns and Greys, go back to Cumberland and arrive safe at her home in her own time.
However… She felt hurt, thinking that William proposed to her only because of his duty and his friendship with her fake grandfather. Maybe, a little part of her was expecting… love.
No, not love. Something. Just… Maybe a bit of tenderness. Specially after that kiss, still printed in her body. She could close her eyes and feel his hands roaming her breasts, his lips in her skin, the way his chestnut brown hair fell in his face and his blue eyes stared back at her. She loved how he would push her against him, as her feet stood in tip toes, to reach his mouth in hers…
“Milady?” She heard a voice from afar, making her mind run away from the constant thoughts about William and his intentions towards her. It was the butler, looking serious and poised, ignoring Lady Minerva walking around with every type of fabric in her arm.
“Yes, Hardgrave.” She answered, noticing she was playing with a chess piece. It was the set William gave to her, when they first kissed.
Damn! Couldn’t he stay out of her mind?
“The Earl of Ellesmere.”
The butler was already stepping backwards, to allow her fiancé (Oh, God, he was her fiancé) to enter the room, when Lady Minerva screamed:
“WAIT! No, William, don’t come in!”
Hardgrave hurriedly stood in front of the door again, making William let out a sigh behind the old man.
“Really, Aunt Minnie, I don’t see the reason…”
“We are choosing fabric to your bride’s trousseau! You can’t see! It’s ill luck!” She screamed back, trying to hide the meters and meters of fabric.
“I need to speak to her. How will I speak to her if you don’t let me in?” He tried to reason, with no avail.
“You can scream through Hardgrave. He will not mind, will you?” She screamed back, as the poor butler shook his head quickly.
“This is ridiculous! I will come in!”
She saw as William tried to push the butler from his face. However, the little man was using the door as shield, making it more difficult, even for a bull as William.
“WAIT! No! Don’t come in! Margareth, go meet William there! And be quick about it. We don’t want any gossip!”
“We already have gossip…” William said as she walked towards the door.
“Be quiet, boy! Now, be quick about it.” Lady Minerva announced as the door closed behind them and Hardgrave walked fast, avoiding being near the two lovebirds.
They stared at each other, uncomfortable about the situation, although… there was something in the way he stared at her, that made Peggy wish she could just jump over him and let him have her body as he wanted.
She watched, as he fumbled around, taking a little box from his coat. He opened, without getting on one knee or saying beautiful words: it was an engagement ring, with a beautiful light grey pearl on top of it, golden filigree adorning it over a silver circle. It was simple and yet beautiful.
“I know I had to find you a proper ring. A proper engagement ring. But I hadn’t much time… I saw it leaving the Archbishop’s office… And I knew it was right for you. For us.” He took it from the box, taking her hand in his. “I hope it fits. We don’t have time to make them adjust it.”
She saw the ring sliding down her finger, in such an erotic manner, that she thought she would faint like a virgin. Her heart was beating fast in her chest and she felt a feeling, deep in her soul. Something she didn’t feel since… She couldn’t think of it. Not now.
Because the last time she felt love, she got her heart broken within weeks. And she wouldn’t bear to have it happen again.
James was sitting in the public library in Oxford during his lunch break, roaming through articles of missing people. He had been doing that for most of the last month, to no avail. Until something odd started to happen.
First, he started to search for missing young individuals in Cumbria for the last ten years. Nothing interesting, most people were found dead or living in the streets due to drug abuse. Then he passed to twenty years and then he started to find some things.
A bloke named Reggie O’Ryan disappeared during a trip in 2008 in the Lake District National Park. He was travelling by himself, after his fiancé dumped him two days before the marriage. Never found. In 1999, another man called Jonathan Collins disappeared near Glassonby. His wife told the officers he liked to do tracks between the woods and usually he would visit stone formations nearby.
Near Orton, in 1985, a woman named Laura Mills went missing. She was a history scholar and the subject of her thesis was the stone circle named Gamelands near there. The same event was seen in 1977, 1972, 1968, 1962, 1953, 1945 and 1937, in different regions in Cumbria, all with stone circles around.
He wanted to stop. That didn’t make any sense at all. He was clearly watching too much sci fi movies, imagining that the position of the stones and planets could affect the kidnapping of his best friend. In any moment, he would be blaming aliens and abductions. It was too ridiculous.
And a too great coincidence. Certainly, if he started to search in other places, with stone circles, he would not see that strange pattern. He searched through famous stone henges, noticing that, as the regions in England got closer to Scotland, the number of those stone circles increased, being numerous by the highlands.
For example, the famous Craigh na Dun was surrounded by mystery for more than sixty years. In 1946, a war nurse named Claire Randall disappeared near the circle, while collecting flowers, being an amateur botany. Her husband, Franklin Randall, a scholar from Oxford, spent two years trying to find her, until she reappeared suddenly, with weird clothes and speechless from trauma.
Things get weirder, as in 1968 a woman named Geillis Edgars disappeared and the body of her husband was found next to the stone circle, burned to practically ashes. By the same year, Claire Randall disappeared once again, while in vacation in Scotland. Her last location was not known, but a taxi driver swore he left her by Craigh na Dun.
James was feeling out of breath, as he read the news regarding Brianna Randall, the only daughter of Franklin and Claire Randall, who disappeared in 1971 for nearly eight years, while in vacation at Scotland. Some days after, the disappearance of Roger Mackenzie was noticed as well, but the police filed the case, as news about his understanding with young Brianna and their love ran through the small city of Inverness.
Eventually, they reappeared in 1979, as the new buyers of an old estate called Lallybroch. They answered questions, dismissing their disappearance as an elopement to the United States, where they lived there for many years. Until 1980, when they hastily sold the estate and left the country.
Jamie looked at the old and yellowish paper in his hands, with a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty. Surely, that had nothing to do with Peggy. This was old wives’ tale or, at least, a marketing strategy for something… It couldn’t possibly… It is… How…
But Jamie couldn’t help himself to think about the old story he always heard from the staff at Ellesmere, about how the old monastery was erected around an old henge. And to think about her heels, lost on the path to the ruins.
Chapter 16: Love as a moment
“Oh, my darling, you look lovely!” Whispered Lady Minerva behind her, watching the veil being placed in her head.
She was lovely indeed. Despite everything that happened, the stolen kiss, the farse of marriage and the deep sadness she felt remembering that William didn’t want to really stay married, she managed to, at least, transform this little chaos in something for her to remember, after many years in the future, when the memories of the 18th century adventure were fainter than ever.
Lady Minerva was not very willing to let her have a white dress. Too unusual and pale, she said. It would take away the color of her cheeks during the celebration and no bride wants to be colorless during her marriage. White would be so difficult to use after… She needed a dress where she could use in balls or dinners, as well. Something classy, beautiful and proper.
Peggy kept her choosing, despite the protests. The soft creamy white and gold brocade illuminated her skin. She was able to avoid the panniers, using layers and layers of petticoats to give the movement and size that the dress needed.
Delicate lace adorned the hem of the skirt, the sleeves and the bodice, making Peggy look feminine and fragile. Pearls were around her throat and hanging from her ears, delicately. She had insisted in the veil over her hair, despite Lady Minerva telling her that only papists were the accessory nowadays.
She looked like an angel, with the soft and translucent tule falling over her features, protecting her skin from the gaze of her betrothed. After all, she always had a strange feeling regarding William, a feeling of being struck by lightning every time he watched her closely.
“Oh…” Lady Minerva gulped, and Peggy could see the tears in her bright blue eyes.
“Oh, no. Please, Lady Minerva, don’t you cry. Please.” She asked, walking towards the woman, taking her in her arms.
“Oh, darling. I’m fine. Truly.” She said, walking away softly and carefully, to not mess with the clothes and the veil. “You were right, after all. Look how elegant you’re, with this white ensemble…”
She smiled, glad that she could give that, at least, to the nice lady and the old gentleman waiting for her downstairs.
“We should go. My grandfather is waiting for us.” She said, adjusting her posture and looking at the door. “William will be worried if I’m late for my own wedding.”
Lady Minerva scoffed, adjusting the pearl necklace and looking at Peggy with soft and warm eyes.
“A bride is always fashionably late.” She said, touching the veil with the point of her fingers. “And there is another thing…”
The great lady paused, blinking with discomfort, lips pressed together.
“Well, the thing is… You’re a lady, a damsel. I received you in my house completely lost about… Life… So, I gather that no one told you about… Well… The wedding night…” Minnie blue eyes were running around the room, afraid of looking directly to a flabbergasted Peggy.
“Oh, Lady Minerva… Please…” The last thing she needed was to hear sex advices from a 18th century woman.
“Now, Margareth Bedwyn. Don’t try to interrupt me! I have to do this.” The lady paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “When you get married to my nephew, it is expected that for you two to share a bed, at least for some hours, some days of the week. He will… well… caress you and…well…”
This was unbearable.
“Well…he will take you as his wife… I don’t think I need to be more descriptive than that. In any case, it will be nice and… well… satisfying… so you have nothing to fear about. This… well… dance… will lead to pregnancy and babies. Not necessarily, actually…” She stopped for a moment. “Well, so, the main important aspect is that it’s going to be an amazing evening and you will remember this little chat when you have the same little chat with your daughter in the future. Now, shall we leave?”
Peggy remained looking at the uncomfortable woman, cheeks flushed and eyes roaming around the room. Well, damn, Uncle Hal… What did you do with Aunt Minnie in the sheets, hum?
“Thank you, Lady Minerva.” Peggy said at last, to ease the lady’s pain. “I appreciated our little chat. I’m afraid, however, it’s not going to be very useful. William only proposed to me because he was obliged to do so. Surely, he has no intentions of visiting my bed.”
This made the gracious lady turn her gaze back to Margareth, raised eyebrows and all.
“Oh my! If you think that the scene played in the garden during the Blackwood’s ball was not a preview of your wedding night, my girl, you’re more innocent than I thought you were.”
“William Ransom, Earl of Ellesmere, is nervous.” Said Adam Grey, the new Viscount Grey.
He had returned from the Grey’s property in the countryside, where he was personally managing the land. He was tanned, his bright teeth showing over the golden skin, the blond hair bright and shiny from the sun.
“You certainly are.” Continued Adam, by his side, as the best man would. “You like her, don’t you?”
“Of course, I like her.” Said William, turning around to see him. “I’m marrying her, after all.”
“Oh, don’t be daft. You know what I mean… You love her.” He continued his speech, eyes fixed in the door. “You think she is not going to show up.”
“Shut up.” William blurted out loud, as a flabbergasted minister watched the argument from afar. “She is with your mother, Adam. She will come.”
“You really don’t know my mother well enough.” Adam said, looking at his boots.
“What this mean? Adam. What this mean?” William asked, but his cousin was ignoring him with a sly smile in his face.
He glanced at the door, many scenarios passing through his mind. Maybe she told her intentions to Aunt Minnie? Could the old lady help her to escape this marriage? To escape her own family?
No… Never… Could she?
Images of him waiting all day long for a bride that didn’t show up were fixed in his imagination, as she ran away… Maybe with another man… That’s why she wanted to escape to Cumberland… That’s why she couldn’t marry him…
He felt his stomach curl in anger, imagining her kissing this man, while laughing about the poor chap that she fooled around in London.
“Every bride is late, son.” Said Lord Ashbourne. “Just take it easy.”
“I’m not nervous, milord.” William answered, taking a small laugh from his cousin.
“He is not nervous, Lord Ashbourne. He is clearly panicking. Someone call a physician!” Adam teased, laughing out loud.
The jest made the old lord smile as well, showing his wooden teeth. He had warm and generous eyes, that melted in his face with sentiment.
“She is a fine girl, Ellesmere. And she will be a fine countess as well. When I married Hyacinth… some many years ago… I was in the verge of throwing up. You will be fine.” Said the man, walking towards one of the chairs placed in the ballroom at Ellesmere House. William grabbed his hand, making the man look back to him.
“She will come, won’t she?” William asked, feeling his stomach curl again.
“Well, see it for yourself, my boy.” Said the lord, pointing to somewhere behind him, where stood, very still, a figure in white.
There she was, looking like an angel, arm in arm with Lord Bedwyn. From the point of her toes to the top of her head, she looked like she had come from a fairytale. Surely, the girl coming towards him was not a product from this world.
“Well, now I understand the reason for your affliction. She is stunning.” Murmured Adam by his side, watching the girl coming for them in the improvised aisle at his home, her steps echoing in the wooden floor.
Her delicate features were covered by a thin tule, making her look like a saint. Her face was flushed and he could see her shallow breathing by the way her breast was moving in a ridiculous speed by the edge of her neckline. His fingers twitched, wanting to touch her there, feeling the softness of her skin once again.
“Take care of her, son.” Lord Bedwyn said, placing her hand in his tenderly.
He looked around, seeing the small group of guests sitting in the few chairs, waiting for the celebration to begin. When he decided to marry in his house, instead of a church, it was merely to avoid a scene and a commotion. Now, he saw how the morning light coming from the great windows brighten her hair, making the locks shinier. How the silence in the room made her more serene.
Everything in that place made her more special, if this was even possible.
He only noticed the words coming from the minister after he asked:
“Do you, William Clarence Henry George Ransom, take Margareth Elizabeth Bedwyn as your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do.” William said, watching her face blush even more under his gaze.
“And you, Margareth Elizabeth Bedwyn, take William Clarence Henry George Ransom as your lawfully wedded husband?”
“I do.” She whispered, turning to him.
Gently, he took her hand in his, sliding the golden wedding ring in her finger, feeling his hands tremble and his heart race under her gaze.
“You may kiss your bride.”
Slowly, William lifted her veil, brushing her skin with his fingers, tasting the softness of her body instantly. Her eyes were big and round, filled with emotion and suspense. If eyes could devour someone, hers would be devouring him in this right instant. Out of breath, he joined their lips in a chaste kiss, being enveloped by her warm breath and the sense of belonging.
It was a strange feeling.
She was seating by the end of the table, enjoying a delicious meal with her guests, looking at her new husband by her side, as he laughed from something the young and bold Adam Grey said.
Her husband. How weird was that?
“Are you ready to entertain our guests, Lady Ellesmere?” He had asked, as they walked hand in hand towards the dinning room.
Indeed, she was, now, Margareth Ransom, Countess of Ellesmere. Well, at least one of two to come in the future, at least.
Their marriage was celebrated in the late morning, as it was appropriate for the Church of England. Their vows were being sealed as the sun was getting high in the sky and the noon approached. That made it easier for her to sit down and enjoy a meal, feeling her stomach curl with hunger.
They had everything: entrées, main dishes and desserts. She tasted hors d’oeuvres aplenty, cucumbers in tiny slices of bread, smoked salmon and cherry tomatoes with basil. Strong smelled cheeses with honey and small mushrooms salted to taste.
She drank the most diverse types of soups: carrots and pumpkin, pea and potatoes. She ate pheasant, quail and chicken. Rabbit, trout and shrimps. Vegetables steamed or brought to the pan in a delicious butter sauce.
Around the table, as many different types of wine were being served, she watched her merry guests tease and jest with each other, toasting the newlyweds in more innovative ways as they got drunker.
Lord Bedwyn had a warm smile in his face all the time and celebrated his granddaughter marriage giving a nice speech about her parents. Or at least, who he thought were her parents. Even then, she got tears in her eyes, feeling the multitude of love he tried to convey in his words.
Lord Ashbourne cried many times, as he toasted for the beautiful bride, remembering his wife, late Lady Hyacinth. Comparisons between their beauty and charisma were made, even though the good lord insisted that Peggy was prettier.
Lord Rokesby celebrated the groom and his posture as a decorated captain. He spoke about the life in the colonies and the tumultuous rebellions and how strong and courageous William did his duty to his kingdom in a most dignified manner, smiling to Lady Rokesby by his side.
Even young Adam Grey, with his sparkling light blue eyes and easy smile, made a toast, mostly announcing to his cousin to pay close attention to his beautiful bride, as he would certainly try to steal her from him.
Lady Minerva was always with her glass raised, waiting for the toasts to come, her light blue eyes melted in happiness. Peggy could see how delighted the old lady was about this union, as her gaze kept fixing in William, handsome in his army regalia and in Margareth, with her beautiful and virginal white dress.
When the cake arrived, William took his sword from the sheath and, with Peggy’s hand intertwined in his, they cut it from the top to the end, smiles fixed in their lips, surrounded by a strange happiness, not very appropriate, considering that this marriage was a farse.
After the cake and the many desserts, the group went to the living room, where the man drank some liquors and the woman drank their tea in peace.
“I will receive news from you, my boy, when you get back to the Colonies?” Asked Lord Rokesby, sipping his brandy.
“Of course, milord.” Answered William, turning the ember liquid in its cup.
“Don’t you worry, Lady Ellesmere. I will write to some of the army wives in the Colonies. You will need some company, while waiting for Captain Ransom to come back from his battles.” Said Lady Rokesby, making Peggy flush.
“Thank you, milady. It will be most appreciated.” She answered, although thinking that certainly she wouldn’t step a foot outside England for the next 300 years.
“Look at the time, George!” Exclaimed Lady Minerva, getting up quickly, almost dripping her tea in the wooden floor. “It’s time for us to go… Such a lovely ceremony… Amazing dishes…”
The lady continued babbling, hugging William and kissing Peggy’s cheek as she walked towards the doors. Soon, all in the room was following her, looking mesmerized and surprised. After all, it was only 5 o’clock in the afternoon.
“Yes, well, Ellesmere. Thank you for the lunch…” Mumbled Lord Rokesby, as he was almost kicked outside Ellesmere House by Mason, William’s butler.
All the guests mumbled their greetings, being awaited by an anxious Lady Minerva by the street. Lord Bedwyn gave his granddaughter a tight hug and kissed her cheeks, warm eyes and gentle smile.
“Be good to Ellesmere, sweetheart.”
And then, they were all gone, leaving her helpless by the sole company of her own husband.
Chapter 17: Love as patience
They looked at each other, alone in the corridor. She could feel the heat coming from his body, still dressed in the red coat. Peggy contained the impulse to place her hand in his chest, feeling the heat enter through her skin and crawl inside her heart.
“Well.” He said, looking to his boots and lifting his eyes a while after. “I believe I should escort you to your new chamber, Lady Ellesmere.”
Oh, God. That was it, wasn’t it? Why she was feeling so nervous? She wasn’t a virgin anymore, she knew exactly what was going to happen… However… His eyes, so blue, looking straight at her, made her tingle in excitement.
She placed her hand in the nook of his arm, letting him lead the way, up the stairs, towards the family wing. It was a somber and beautiful manor, with its light rose walls and old paintings. The floorboards were ancient and uneven, sighing with the weight over them, as they walked slowly through the room.
The countess room was a light shade of green and gold, with heavy velvet curtains and an old canopy bed, with posts heavily decorated with carpentry work, showing vines with huge grapes growing upwards, towards the canopy itself. Her chest with her trousseau was already there, probably empty except for her linen.
She turned to see William, standing very still near one of the bed posts, his hands behind his back in a military pose. He was uncomfortable about the situation and that almost made Peggy chuckle, if she wasn’t so nervous herself.
“I will let you rest, then.” He paused, smacking his lips together. “We will meet later.”
And he left, leaving a flabbergasted Peggy behind, while a maid entered the room.
What the hell?
“Let me help you, Your Ladyship.” Murmured the maid, turning her gently and taking the pins out of her stomacher.
“I just got married…” She babbled, confused.
“His Lordship certainly is preparing for your wedding night, milady. As you should, also. It’s not fit for a lord to undress his lady.” The maid whispered, green eyes shining under the red freckles in her face.
Oh. Ooooh. She didn’t know that. Of course, in Jane Austen’s novels, she never described a wedding night in the 18th century. All the books ended in engagements or marriages and that’s it. A fairytale ending.
So, she waited, with her heart thundering, as the maid took the pieces of clothing, unrolled her stockings and took out her shift, covering her with an elegant lacy nightgown and an evening robe. She felt her hair being loosen from the up-do, falling on her back, as the pearls were being taken from her neck and her ears.
She sat in the bed, fingers thundering in her thighs, eyes fixed on the door in front of her. She was being ridiculous, waiting impatiently for a man to come have sex with her. A man that she didn’t love and she didn’t care. A man that would, soon, be out of her life forever.
But there she was, mind fixed on that day, a week prior, where they kissed under the stars, when her body caught fire only with his gentle touch over her breasts. She tried to imagine him opening that door, the chestnut locks falling on his shoulders, those bright cat like eyes watching her with desire…
She couldn’t help thinking about the way he would come towards her in the bed, laying her gently in her back, caressing her cheeks and kissing her lips softly, his hands opening the laces of the robe and nightgown, leaving her naked and ready for him to…
Her mind was drifting in dreams, laying in her bed, eyes closed and the constant picture of William Ransom is his 18th century clothes entering her room to take his rights as her husband in the back of her lids.
So, she barely noticed as the sleep caught with her, waking up scared and confused in an empty bed, still in her robe, her slippers half hanging from her feet in the edge of the mattress. The curtains were not pulled close and she could see the stars and the beautiful full moon.
Peggy fumbled from the bed, searching for the light switch. When she felt the naked wall, her mind lighted from the fog of her sleep. She wasn’t paying a visit to the Ramson’s during her school break in the 21st century. She was married to the earl, way back in the 18th century.
Married to a man that did not come for his own wedding night.
She walked carefully around the room, seeing only due to the soft ambers glowing in the fireplace. The door to William’s chamber was built as a wall panel, to be discreet and not alure to the fact that man and woman had to meet in the late hours of the night to provide heirs to the estate.
Peggy knocked, shyly at first. Not a sound came from the room in answer. She knocked loudly and, still, she received no answer. She called his name and tried to open the door, feeling her heart race as she saw the empty bed in front of her.
Where the fuck was he?
William took out his scarf, throwing in the sofa behind him, next to the jacket and the boots. Good God, he needed a drink. With haste, he added, as his mind was walking upstairs, trying to have a glimpse of his wife in a thin nightgown, the hard nipples he felt in his hands showing under the thin fabric.
He tried to pour the brandy, but it was too late. He had emptied the bottle. He had finished the sherry, as well, and was finally facing the task of finding the stock of spirits in the room.
He had chickened out, as usual. When he faced himself in her room, with her eyes devouring him in expectation, her cheeks flushed in delight, he freaked out and left like a little lamb. He could have been there, still, making love to that beautiful woman that had his name and his title.
But no, his mind had to fix on that one particular thought:
The last thing he needed right now was his real father in his mind, while he prepared for his wedding night. However, there he was, not only in his mind, but by his side, the proof he was losing his mind slowly, seeing people where there was not.
“Och, lad, why are ye so upset. Go up and take the lass.”
As if it was that simple. Take the girl and then what? Take her to the colonies and present to you? Here, this is my father, a Scottish prisoner and a rebel. Also, I’m a bastard.
“She will understand. She is a good lass, with a good heart. Claire forgave me, after all. She will forgive you too…”
Mother Claire loved his father deeply, since the beginning of their marriage. They were faithful to each other, even when the circumstances departed them. Even when his mother appeared in the picture… But since the beginning he has been lying and hiding the truth from Margareth.
“A Dhia, lad! She has been hiding things from you also. Forget and forgive!”
He couldn’t. He couldn’t let his mind take over his body, his heart taking him to her arms, where he would spend a night of love and passion. He would love her senseless, waking up with her naked body next to him every day, until… Well, until the end of the month.
He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t love her and let her leave him. Not knowing that he took the only thing she had left: her virginity. He couldn’t let her escape knowing that a child might result from their nights together.
A child that would grow up fatherless, in God knows where.
A bastard, all over again.
He could almost feel James Fraser phantom fingers holding his shoulder, giving him a strength William feared he was losing entirely, as his mind dwelled in solitude and loss.
“William?” He suddenly heard from the door, as a figure in white watched him with a furrowed brow.
God, she looked lovely in that robe, the lace from the nightgown showing under it, making his mind roam to a territory he was trying to avoid…
“What are you doing in here?” She continued, walking towards him. “Do you know what time is it?”
“I beg your pardon…?” He was mesmerized by the red lips and the pink cheeks, unable to think properly.
“It’s almost 3 in the morning. Are you… drunk?” She raised her eyebrows, watching the empty bottle of brandy by the fireplace and his glazed eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! You ARE drunk!”
“Woman, I only took a few sips. I’m fine…” He claimed, getting up to quickly and wobbling around, being taken out of improper thoughts as she cursed around him like a sailor.
“You’re not fucking fine! You’re clearly drunk and will be sick tomorrow! We have to be on the road in the early morning and I will not tolerate a drunkard vomiting by my side!” She screamed at him, making him get up and marching towards her.
“Who do you think you’re to boss me around? I will drink whatever I like, as much as I like, whenever I like.” He screamed back at her.
“Who do I think I am?” She repeated, punching him in the chest. “I’m your fucking wife. Or at least I was supposed to be, until I found myself alone in my bed with my husband weeping his sorrows with spirits. I was worried!”
He saw her placing a finger in his chest, taping with every angry word, her beautiful brown eyes almost golden in anger.
“Lady Ellesmere, are you upset that I did not come to your chamber? That I did not take what was mine in my wedding night?” He asked, his eyebrows slowly raising in his forehead, as he understood all her exasperation.
“What?” She asked, surprised, her finger stopping it’s tapping in his chest. “No! Of course not. I… No.”
“You want me.” He whispered, a slight smile showing in the corner of his mouth.
“Don’t be stupid. I… I just… It is simply…” But she couldn’t finish her sentence, as his lips were already in hers.
His lips were pressed against hers, as his hands moved over her body, cupping her bosom and pulling her towards him. Her hands were grabbing his hair, taking that ridiculous ponytail and feeling, in her digitals, the luscious and soft curls. In her thin nightgown, pressed towards his huge body, she could feel his member pulsing against her belly, a clear sign that she was being stupid all along.
He clearly wanted her.
And she wanted him too.
“Are you sure about this?” She said between kisses, as his lips roamed towards her clavicle.
“Oh, hush…” He whispered back, nibling her lobe and slowly pushing her to the sofa.
She found herself in her back, legs sprawled around William’s body, as they kissed. Her body was heating up, coming from between her legs and climbing towards her pounding heart. She felt like she was on fire, as her hands pulled his shirt from his pants, letting her fingers feel the skin of his stomach for the first time.
The skin was soft to the touch but she could feel every and each muscle underneath it. The feeling of her fingers in his body made him shiver and she smiled, satisfied to herself, happy to make a man such as he tremble with her touch.
She felt his hand pulling the laces of the robe and shoving the neckline of her nightgown down, making her breasts appear to him. He watched with hungry eyes, moisturizing his lips as he, ardently, sucked her nipple, the other hands pinching the left breast, making her jolt her hips towards him.
This motion made him sigh loudly, a deep and cavernous sound, filled with lust and craving.
Her body moved in a way it never moved. When she was with Liam, that bastard, he was gentle and caring. Her body moved slowly, feeling his rhythm and his trusts, but never like that. Like she was being electrocuted.
“Oh, please… You have to stop…” She begged, as her hips thrusted against his own hips. “I’m losing my mind.”
This made him chuckle, stopping his kisses in her nipples as one of his hands roamed around, feeling her stomach underneath the nightgown, her thigh and calf, going up gently, caressing the soft skin, making her tremble beyond control.
He paused for a moment near her entrance, gently caressing the skin near her groin, making her hands pull his shirt out, releasing the strong arms and chest, golden like a summer day, hot like the sun itself. With only his tight black trousers, he returned to where he was, his fingers trailing down her pubis, finding what he was looking for.
The touch of a man’s hands in her clitoris didn’t make her mind go back to Liam. Instead, made her mind fill with the images she saw over her: William’s bright blue eyes staring at her, his mouth half open in delight, as he touched her, making her thrust her hips in stronger and quicker motions, her toes curling in bliss.
She could feel, almost reach, the feeling climbing towards her center, the explosions coming from inside, the numbness in her skin, as her body curved, her knees pushed William’s body towards her, her toes curled and her back arched, a soft and pleased moan leaving her throat, followed by a high pitched one, as William increased his movements, determined to make her sigh in pleasure once again.
While his thumb was focused in the button, concentrated in making her get lost in pleasure, his index and middle finger roamed downwards, feeling her moist and swollen. Slowly, he slid the fingers towards her entrance, pausing with his eyebrows arched and his mouth opened in surprise.
This made her mind come back to reality, opening her eyes and watching him stare at her, flabbergasted.
“Are you not a virgin, Margareth?”
Her eyes were wide open, but she didn’t have time to answer him. The great clock in the hall stroke half hour and took her mind out of the stupor she was feeling, watching William on top of her, furrowed brows and all. The old and strong sound made Peggy shove William out of the way, pulling back her nightgown to the right place in her shoulder and running outside the room, feeling ashamed and betrayed.
She saw in his face the horror and disgust as he realized she wasn’t a virgin anymore. A spoiled good, a whore to the sight of men. He thought he was getting a debutant, a maiden and now… Now he knew.
She threw herself in her bed, feeling the tears strike down her cheeks and fell on the pillows. She disgusted William deeply and although she expected to return home, in no time soon, she didn’t want to leave knowing that somewhere, sometime, in the past, William would remind of her as the lying whore he thought she was.
Chapter 18: Love as a tempest
She walked towards the carriage without looking back, pushing her hood to protect her face from the curious crowd of servants and maids waiting outside to say their farewell to their lord and lady.
She had heard the rushed comments while she was having her breakfast in bed, like a proper, married upper class woman. Of how her sheets were not stained with blood. Of how His Lordship slept in the library, alone, completely drunk, still in his wedding clothes.
She could feel the curiosity creeping in, the servants trying to understand what happened in the wedding night of the earl of Ellesmere and the beautiful young lady they now called countess.
William sat in front of her, blue eyes staring her along the way, brows furrowed with doubts and fears, bags under his eyes and a pale face. She knew that he was thinking what he would do, now. Certainly, he would ship her away as fast as he could, to be rid of a whore as his wife, getting back the freedom he so adored.
She did not dare to stare him in his eyes, afraid of crying once again, as she had spent all night crying. Instead, she kept her gaze outside, watching the beautiful and decadent city of London being left behind and receiving the green pastures and large trees of the countryside, covering the road with a nice shade.
Peggy saw the peaceful cows munching the grass, the rabbits jumping into bushes and the singing of wild birds. The sky was a bright blue, like William’s eyes…
The movement of the carriage made her sore and sick, prompting to close her eyes, waiting for her mind wander in deep sleep. However, it kept wandering to things she didn’t want to remember, like William’s eyes as he realized she wasn’t a virgin, after all.
They briefly stopped, after a long time in the road, to change the horses and for the lord and lady to have some lunch. The tavern was a clean enough space, different from what she was expecting, with bright white walls and beams of wood. It was called the White Rose and had, in their façade a York Rose drawn.
William asked for a private dinning room to be arranged for the Lord and Lady Ellesmere, to the great satisfaction of the innkeeper, that flattered them in every way possible, praising their noble house and their good spirits.
At last, they were left with some broth and ale, bread and cheese to relieve their hunger. The silence was still present between the two of them, since the last night. The only sound present, beside the crowd outside their chamber, was the slurping of soup and drinking of ale.
“Will you not talk to me?” William finally said, startling her.
She didn’t answer, as she was afraid to say anything to him. She feared that the regal politeness around them would vanish as soon as she opened her mouth, prompting him to attack her with words and actions.
He would break her heart, that was only now beginning to mend.
“Margareth, please.” He begged, looking for her gaze. “Talk to me.”
“What do you want me to say?” She finally said, feeling a lump in her throat.
“Tell me your story. Tell me what happened to you. Tell me…” He stopped for a moment, looking to the ale in front of him. “Tell me why you’re not a maiden anymore.”
“I’m not ready to tell you that.” She answered, breaking the loaf of bread in her hands.
He shook his head, watching her throw the pieces and crumbles around the table, unable to look him in the face.
“You want me to wait around? Wait until you dare to speak to me? Knowing that my wife is not a virgin? That some man deflowered her and then threw her away?” He asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
She threw a final piece of bread in him, looking vexed.
“You have no need to wait for anything, milord. You can just throw me in the gutters as well, for all I care.” She bitterly announced, eyes firing with hate.
“As well? So, this man indeed dismissed you, after getting what he wanted?” He searched for her gaze once again, to no avail. “Tell me what happened, Margareth. Please.”
She considered, for a brief moment. Tell him about Jamie and Liam. Her parents and Lady Clarice. The future and her voyage through the stones. She hoped that, if she told him that, he would not hate her anymore, as she feared he hated her now. Peggy never thought she would need his smile, warm and soft, once again in her life and this mere impression was destroying her soul.
However, she didn’t had time to open her mouth. The coachman knocked on the door, saying that the horses and the carriage were ready to continue the travel. And it was better to keep going now, as a tempest was approaching.
He had a terrible headache and with every movement of the carriage, William thought he would throw up. After being left by a distressed Margareth in the empty library at Ellesmere House, he managed to scrap all the spirits from the cabinet, drinking until he got numb fingers and a drooling mouth.
Now, more or less sober with a terrible hangover, he watched his silent wife by the other side, her eyes fixed on the road and her lips closed shut. The dark clouds coming towards them matched their mood, as them both were feeling hurt and lost after the other night.
His wedding night.
He was so afraid of the feelings building inside him since the first time he laid eyes in the beautiful woman he would claim as his wife… that he didn’t see how she had built feelings for him too. He only acknowledged them as she stared at him in the dark of the night, angry that he was alone in the room, away from his bride and clearly drunk.
And then… they kissed. Oh, how sweet and marvelous that kiss was. How he loved how her body responded to his, how the mere touch of her hands put his skin on fire. They had feasted in passion and lust for what seemed to be hours, until he destroyed everything.
He should have known better. Auntie Minnie had spoken about the perils a girl faces living in a world of men. Of the bodies being sold to the highest bidder, violated without mercy, taken and discarded like they were objects, not women.
When she arrived memoryless, traumatized and afraid, he should have known. He should have guessed… He would be prepared for their wedding night and he would have bedded her more gently. He would be more understanding, not the brute, overwhelmed by sensations and new emotions.
They arrived in the inn with the storm. It was already dark outside and they could barely see an inch with the heavy rain drops falling from the thunderous sky. The valet opened the door and helped escorting his lady inside the inn, through mud and dirt.
The place was crowded and William could hear the high voices of drunken men coming from everywhere. Surely, those sitting there were seeking for refuge from the storm. Walking carefully, avoiding all the bodies standing in his way, he went to the innkeeper, serving beer to some guest, as Margareth was being guarded by the valet and the coachman.
“Good evening, sir.” He said, catching the inkeeper’s attention. “I need two rooms and shelter for my servants.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” The man answered. “We are full due to the rain. Perhaps further down the road you will find The Green Gate with some vacancies.”
“We can’t travel further down in this rain, sir. There’s mud everywhere and we can’t see an inch. The carriage will bog and God’s knows when we will be able to untie it.” William insisted.
“I’m sorry, sir. There’s nothing I can do.” The man turned to see the lord, beer mugs in hand. “I can only offer ye food and beer.”
William hated to do that but he had to try. After all, he couldn’t drive through the storm with his bride and his servants, putting in risk the life of all around him.
“I expect that you could make an exception for an earl, good sir.” He finally said, feeling ashamed of his words at the same instant.
That made the man open his eyes, watching him with a surprised face and a widespread mouth. The mugs in his hands tilted a bit, making the content drip slowly in the floor and over some man.
“Oh yes. Of course, milord. Why didn’t you say it before?” He placed the mugs in a table and walked with haste towards the counter. “The Duke of Sommerset usually takes refuge in our inn and we always keep a room ready for His Lordship.”
“You don’t understand, sir.” He pointed towards Margareth, shrouded in her heavy travel cloak. “I’m here with my wife. We need two separate chambers.”
“Well, milord. We only have one chamber available. Certainly, Her Ladyship would agree to spend a night with her husband, hum?” The man mocked, a sly smile appearing in his face, making William mad.
“Yes, well, certainly.” He mumbled, watching the innkeeper take a key from under the counter and motioning for them to follow him. Hopefully, she wouldn’t care for the shared chamber.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
William watched as his bride walked around the room, her brows furrowed and her lips crisped in disapproval. She sat by the armchair near the fireplace and stared at the flames, her back very straight, tense.
“We can’t stay like this, Margareth.” He said, alarming her. “You can’t even look at me properly. We need to talk about yesterday.”
“We have nothing to talk about.” She answered, still watching the fire. “I understand pretty well what happened last night.”
“Well, I didn’t.” He insisted, watching towards her. “I have questions, millions of them. I have doubts and I have hopes… And I… God, I just want you to look me in the eyes.”
“We don’t need to go through this, William.” She paused, closing her lids. “We have our understanding and I will not be bothered if you decide to let me leave right now. I have money for the journey and…”
“What do you mean by ‘no’?” Peggy asked, taking her glaze from the fire in front of her and looking at her husband for the first time.
“You will not go anywhere.”
She sighed, placing a hand in her forehead. He kept the vicious desire in humiliating her, like he did on the other night.
“Listen, I understand…”
“Be quiet, for God’s sake!” He shouted and she got quiet, eyebrows raised in surprise. William was known to be calm and don’t lose his temper easily.
They stared at each other, surprised and nervous, waiting for the first one to dare to speak.
“You will not leave. Not now, nor tomorrow nor ever.” He paused to catch his breath. “I will not let you.”
She opened her mouth to speak, confused, but he kept going.
“I’m tired of lying, Margareth. I’m tired of pretending that I don’t feel the things that I’m feeling. The things that I’ve been feeling since the day I first saw you, laying on the tall grass by the ruins, in a weird dress and mud on your face.”
He walked towards her, taking her hands in his and kissing each and every finger, eyes burning like the fire in the room.
“I don’t want you to leave, Margareth, because I don’t want to be by myself. I don’t want to face the colony without seeing your smile at the end of the day. I don’t want to die knowing that you wouldn’t be by my side at the end.”
“William…” She whispered, trying to find the words, but couldn’t. “You know…”
“Yes. I know. You keep telling me that you have to go, that your life is at risk.” He caressed her flaming red cheeks, tenderly. “And I know that I promised to not rush you for the truth. I expect that one day, someday, you will tell me all of it.”
“I… I can’t…” She started to say, but he placed two fingers over her lips.
“I know, but hear me out. You don’t have to worry about the one’s that hurt you anymore. You’re now my wife, the countess of Ellesmere, Lady Margareth Ransom. You have a home and you have a family that will support you and defend you.” He leaned his forehead against hers. “If they try to come for you, for us, they will face me, the Parliament and the King. Do you understand, Margareth?”
Her heart raced, as she nodded, her lips gently rubbing against his with that movement. She did understand. Perfectly.
“I will stay.” She whispered, feeling his mouth taker hers in hunger, his arms pulling her towards his body.
Peggy kept looking at those most beautiful and blue eyes, that stared back with such sweetness that she knew that he considered her, in this very moment, everything in his life. And she was glad.
Because she felt the same thing for him. And it was a relief to open her heart to happiness once more.
William roamed her body with his hands, opening the buttons of her travel jacket, letting it slide to the floor with a soft thud. Next to flow across the room was her cravat, allowing his mouth to roam through her neck.
“What are you doing?” She was able to ask, despite the thundering heart.
“I’m undressing my wife.”
That made her laugh, despite of her shallow breathing. She felt his hands pulling the strings of the skirt and petticoats and she was almost certain her knees were failing her.
“Last night you were drunk as a skunk, just to avoid this same action.” She whispered, feeling the gentle tugs in her midriff.
“Drunk as a skunk…” He smiled, shaking his head. “I was a fool, denying something that was already fixed deep in my soul.” He paused, watching the cords from the stays being pulled in harmony.
“And now?” She asked, fingers twitching to touch him as well.
“And now I will not deny anything, anymore.” He pulled the stays out of her shoulders. “I want you and I will take you, Margareth.”
“Peggy.” She added in one breath, as the shift fell to the ground, leaving her only in her silk stockings.
“What?” He mumbled, eyes fixed in the naked body he only now discovered.
“Everyone calls me Peggy.”
“You don’t look like a Peggy.” He whispered, taking pin after pin from her luscious curls.
“What will you call me, then?” She asked, feeling the hair falling on her back. “You can’t expect to keep calling me Margareth forever.”
“I will think about it later.” His hands trailed down her body, making her shiver. “I have more important matters to attend now.”
Chapter 19: Love as passion
Peggy pulled the ribbon from his ponytail, making those beautiful chestnut locks flow around them, her hands groping it with emotion. His hands cupped her bottom and, with a slight movement, pushed her upwards, prompting her to embrace his waist with her legs, as he walked towards the bed. Sitting there, William sighed, feeling her curious fingers untie the scarf in his neck, making if free for her small kisses all over it.
While she unbuttoned his waistcoat, dropping kisses around in his clavicles, he touched her, feeling her curves as an sculptor would feel the marble, waiting for it to become art. Peggy only stopped her kisses for a moment, to look at William with hungry eyes, her mouth devouring his once again, shoving his shirt off with haste.
Taking her in his arms, he placed Peggy in her back, feeling her hands contour his abdomen, her legs spreading around him, getting ready for him to take her. She wanted to feel him inside her, his movements all around, the way he would breath in her ear and would sigh in pleasure.
However, William wasn’t feeling very hurry. He caressed her, from head to toes, his tongue sucking her earlobes, as his hands cupped her breasts and pinched her skin. He gasped, feeling Peggy’s hands in his back, fingernails gently trailing each bone in his spine, sliding under the waist of his trousers, quickly, teasing him to insanity.
He wanted to tease her too, soon she noticed. His mouth slid towards her nipple, grabbing it with his teeth and making her squirm with delight as he sucked one gently. Her hands went back to his hair, grabbing it, demanding for him not to leave her now.
He obeyed, letting his hands roam towards her entrance, his fingers touching her in the right places, making her sigh in delight. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling his hands open her and touch her, caressing her parts and making her throb, stealing the control of her limbs, as she shivered and shivered, always hoping and waiting for that moment.
That particular moment, when the world would catch fire and she wouldn’t notice. When the stars could fall from the stars and she would only know herself and her body, with the stars exploding insider her core and making her shiver in delight.
She was still breathless when she noticed that there were no hands in her anymore. She slowly opened her eyes, seeing William laying very still by her side, his eyes devouring her with expectation.
She raised her arm, trying to pull him back to her body, but he got away, standing up by the side of the bed, his golden torso shining on the firelight. She watched as he took out his boots, throwing it on the floor without much ceremony.
He turned to her, pulling her travelling boots and tossing on the floor with a loud thud. She wanted to complain, asking him to be more careful, be quieter, but his hands were pulling the gathers from her thighs, sliding the stockings down in a fluid and sensual motion. He stroked her skin, before tossing away the fabric on the floor and straightening himself in front of her.
When he motioned to pull the laces of his trousers, she took her back from the bed and placed a hand over the ribbons. That gesture made William raise his eyes to her, surprise and delight impressed in his irises. Peggy, then, took hold of the hem, pulling him towards her and the bed, slowly.
His mouth devoured her, tasting her tongue and feeling her tremble under his body, her fingers compressed against his skin, still pulling the hem of his trousers towards her, moving with care, fingernails sliding through each lace, opening it to her, loosening him for herself.
“Do you want it?” He whispered, feeling her hands slide through his thighs, pushing away the last piece of clothing.
“It’s too late to ask me that.” She teased, stroking his bare back.
“No, it’s not.” He paused for a moment, looking for the words. The right words. “You know that if we lay together, this might have repercussions…”
“Oh, Will. Hush.” She whispered, taking his mouth in hers and feeling rejoiced as he moaned against her lips, his body adjusting over hers, preparing to make her his wife.
She wasn’t thinking about the future or the past. She couldn’t care less about the repercussions of that night, in a little inn, during a fearful storm, in an ancient road to Cumberland. She was in his strong arms, feeling his heat mingle with her own, skin to skin, mouth to mouth.
He entered her with a sigh, feeling her adjusting in his member, her hands grabbing his shoulders tightly, her mouth opening in delight. She embraced his body and let her mind drift, the sensations and emotions overtaking her and her soul, as his movements got quicker, his breath got shallower and his eyes closed in delight.
And then, with a low scream and a soft moan, they reached their happiness together, bodies wet with sweat and eyes heavy with lust. Thundering heart beating in their chests, they didn’t dare to get away from the tight embrace, falling asleep together, in the warm bedroom.
How could someone be so beautiful?
She was laying over his chest, eyelids fluttering in dreams, her breath slow and constant. William slowly caressed her brown hair, falling by his chest and arms, that smelled like lavender and lemons.
She stirred a little and he hushed her, calming her in his arms, pulling her closer to his naked body and covering her with the quilt. Soon, she calmed down again, a smile imprinted in her mouth.
She had called him Will.
No one never called him like that. From the several names he had, from his tittles and childish nicknames, no one had ever used Will. He liked that, the way it was intimate and familiar at the same time.
He couldn’t call her Margareth forever, despite that he loved to roll her name in his tongue. However, he couldn’t call her Peggy, as she was much more than that. Margo, perhaps? It was the French version of her name and it could be nice to call her that, especially since she looked so… outlanderish.
“Would you mind if I called you Margo?” He asked for his dreaming wife and waited for an imaginary answer. “No? What about Greta?”
The silence was an answer for him.
“Maybe Meg? Maggie? May? Maisie?”
He caressed her back, eyes fixed in the woman he was thinking of silly nicknames to call. In his mind, he thought about her walking among the flowers in Ellesmere Park, in a straw hat, similar to the one she was using walking around Hyde Park. She would smile to him and kiss him tenderly, as she placed her basket filled with roses on the floor.
They would return to the mansion arm in arm, as she listened to him talking about the tenants and she complained about the new gardener, that knew nothing about violets and was, slowly, killing her flowers.
Maybe, then, a boy would come running from the house, complaining on how his sister was being mean to him and a young girl, with warm brown eyes, would come running as well, saying it was not her fault.
She was the missing piece in the puzzle that was his life.
“Will?” Margareth whispered in his chest, as she slowly opened her eyes, watching around. “What time is it?”
“Too early, darling. Sleep. When it’s time for breakfast, I will warn you.” He answered, smoothing her cheek.
She smiled to him and fell on the pillows. She had a wicked expression in her face and he enjoyed that.
“I can’t sleep anymore. I’m not tired enough.”
“Your eyes are almost closing, love. Don’t fight the sleep…” He whispered, bringing her close to his body, wanting to lull her back to her dreams.
“I’m not. Truly.” She answered back, lifting her chin to look at his eyes.
The way she looked at him, with the eyes bright with lust, made him dissolve in his own yearning, leaning to take her lips in his. She moaned softly, arching her back to get closer to his body, her hands playing with the curls of his hair. Her reactions to his body made his member rigid, ready to a second round of love making.
“I believe that I can tire you, milady.”
And she laughed, softly, as they made love, once again, slowly and carefully, William watching his new wife squirm under him, in search of pleasure. Pleasure that he gave gladly, though his hands, lips, skin and words. He loved her in any way that he could imagine and she accepted with a smile on her face and her cheeks flushed in ecstasy.
Papa will love her, William thought, watching her play with the hair in his chest. She was smart and witty, with a sharp tongue and bright eyes that would enchant the lord. Dottie would love her as well, with her feisty spirit and easy laugh.
He dreaded to present her to his family the other night, afraid of telling her the horrible truth of his past. Now… now he didn’t care. There were worst things in life, he now knew. He hated every moment that she was angry with him and the distance she placed between them was unbearable.
His heart truly hurt when he saw the pain in her eyes, as she ran away from the library, tears stroking down her cheeks. Admitting to her that he was the son of a Scottish prisoner, a bastard, most of all could never be so painful as when he broke her heart, unable to comfort her properly due to his stubbornness and pride.
He was glad that he undressed his heart to her. That he admitted his feelings and opened his soul to the young girl with bright eyes. Glad to take her as his wife, to give her a family that she never had. After a life of loneliness, Margareth was the Queen of his castle.
“You’re very quiet.” She whispered in his arms, after they got too tired to continue their wedding night.
“I’m thinking.” He answered, kissing the top of her head gently.
“Don’t tire yourself with boring things, Will. Tire yourself with me.” She joked and he laughed softly, taking her sore lips in his.
“I believe that I will never grow tired of you, milady.”
And his heart rejoiced when listening to her sweet laugh.
She wanted to stay.
Oh, how she wanted to get the first vessel sailing to the New World with him by her side. She couldn’t care less about the rats on board the ship, taking 2 months to get in a place where she could get in a day by plane. She couldn’t care about the bad water or the scurvy, if that meant that she would be with him, the man that she found herself completely in love with.
Yes. She was in love with William and that was time to admit it. Even before their night together, she knew she had deep feelings for him. But after, knowing that he was mad about her as well made her accept that she was stuck with an 18th century soldier for life.
However, the images of her family were still in the back of her mind, bagging for her to remember them and come back to her previous life. Grandma Clarice and her mink coats, James and his love for history, daddy and scotch in the long summer nights, mommy and her sweet smile.
She had no brothers nor sisters. Her parents must be completely alone and desperate, waiting for the girl that vanished out of nowhere. She could almost see her mother sitting by the window, a book opened in her lap and her eyes lost in the front gate, searching for the girl that would come back home, eventually.
She thought about her father, always so joyful, watching her mother from afar, unable to reach her, to take her away from her pain, as both were immersed in the same feeling. Could he take Lucy in his arms and waltz through the night with her, like they used to? Could she bake speculoos in the early Sunday mornings, while Piers hummed, as he made tea?
She thought of grandma Clarice, with her sidecar on one hand, her reading glasses in the other, by the side of her phone, waiting for news, answers or just a plain notification from the police. She could be mean and arrogant when she wanted, but she loved her granddaughter, deeply.
She dared to speak her will out loud, to turn her decision in reality. If she said the words, she would never see her family, her real family, once again. She would never say goodbye to them, as they deserved. She would never give one last hug, one last kiss.
They would never share one last laugh.
“Do you enjoy your new home, Lady Ellesmere?” A voice asked behind her, as she watched the gardens from the library window.
“I do, Lord Ellesmere.” She said, turning to see him, with a smile on her lips. “Although, I believe that the garden needs to be taken care of.”
He was so dashing in navy blue, his eyes sparkling with excitement, as he watched her by the great window. He had his hair in a ponytail, again, and she wished she could, simply, take of the ribbon enclosing those beautiful locks, allowing her to caress them through her fingers.
“This can be easily managed. You’re the lady of it all, Peggy. Your wish is my command.” He said, placing a hand in the small of her back.
“Do you have good memories of your childhood in here?” She asked, tracing the lapel with her fingers, gently.
She waited for his answer, but nothing came out of him. She raised her head, looking for his eyes, fixed on the garden outside, his mind lost somewhere far away. She touched his face slightly, making him wake up from his dreams, looking at her with warm eyes.
“I grew up in the estate of my grandfather, Lord Dunsany, some miles away. Helwater.” He whispered to her, sorrowful eyes.
“Not a great name for a house.” She answered, making him chuckle.
“I had good memories. I remember playing chess with my father, listening to my Mother Isobel telling me stories… Riding in my pony…” He stopped, as his mind tried to take him to Jamie Fraser. Not today. “I had to leave when father was sent to Jamaica. Mother died in the voyage.”
He smiled and nodded, pulling her to the other side of the room.
“Don’t you worry about that. It has been 11 years.” He pointed to the window he led her to, facing the north side of the estate. “See, far on the trees? This is where I found you, among the ruins of the monastery.”
Peggy looked for the place where he was pointing to, but could only hear a faint buzzing, like flies after honey or bees in a spring garden. It chilled her bones and gave her goosebumps, racing her heart to an unbearable rate.
She looked around, trying to see what was causing that weird noise, but saw nor flies nor bees around. It could only come from one source: the grey stones appearing beyond the woods, the great mossy pinnacle watching her and calling her to come home.
Jamie had his last hopes in the tiny house by the River Ness, in the quaint town of Inverness. After days calling each and every person related to the missing people he discovered in his investigations (and being rejected by each and every one of them), the heir to the Earl of Ellesmere laid his expectations in an old lady living in a peaceful small town by the Scottish highlands.
The old lady opened the door with a warm smile, her gray hair curled tightly, gray eyes staring at him with a spark he only expected to see in young girls who started to experiment life.
“You must be Mr. Ransom! Please, come in! I prepared some tea and scones for us.” She showed him to a small living room, with a nice fireplace, a tv playing Downton Abbey reruns on the corner and sofas with knitted covers. “I was very intrigued when you called me about Claire Randall. That’s a name that I haven’t heard in… well… forty years, I believe.”
Jamie sat in the sofa, placing the cup of tea over his knee, trying to find the best way to approach the elderly lady without afflicting her wrong emotions. The last thing he needed was to kill the lady while she was serving tea to him.
“I was very intrigued by her story, Mrs. Buchan. I’m doing a thesis about… hum… disappearances throughout the ages… and I was attracted by the story of Claire and her daughter.”
“Och, lad, you can call me Fiona!” She took a small sip from her cup and gave a shy smile. “Ma granny worked for Reverend Wakefield and she told me the story about Mrs. Randall. The folks said she was taken by the fairies, but granny knew that she travelled through the stones.”
He felt his heart beating faster, as he started to hear the confirmation he was searching for.
“Och, I know what you’re thinking. That I’m a crazy old lady. But I ken what I saw, Mr. Ransom: Claire Randall went through those stones, met the man of her life and returned shortly before Culloden Muir, in 1948.”
He placed the cup in the small table in front of him, his mind racing in numbers and math operations.
“The Battle of Culloden happened in 1746… The timeline is not… well… this is not right…”
“The stones don’t work in a mathematical manner.” Fiona shook her head, softly, placing her own cup by the side of Jamie’s. “They have tendencies and are affected by a number of factors… Aye, Claire Randall and her family were attracted to a world 202 years before their own time… But this is no rule.”
“Are you saying that Brianna Randall and Roger Wakefield also travelled through Craigh na Dun?” He asked, out of breath.
“Aye. I’ve seen him walk through those stone with my own eyes, Mr. Ransom. Not one, but two times.” She seemed sad, her mind lost in memories of old days, of younger days, perhaps.
He took the small hands in his, battered by the old age and the hard work, her nails polished and well taken care of, reminding him of the hands of his own grandmother.
“Why are you telling me this, Fiona? You don’t know me.”
She smiled, cupping his cheek.
“I’ve been telling this story for years now. The only difference is that you are the first person to listen to me.”
Chapter 20: Love as whispers
She hardly felt his presence in the garden, as she was drifting to deep asleep, feeling the sun hitting her skin, surrounded by the tall grass and the nice shade of an apple tree. She would spend many hours of her days under this tree, watching the clouds taking shapes over her head and avoiding… well…
“I’ve been looking for you.” He said, laying by her side and taking her hand in his. She smiled with this lovely gesture, stroking his fingers with hers.
“As if you didn’t know that I would be here…” She teased, turning her head to watch her husband by her side. “I’ve been coming to this same spot every day, for the last week.”
She would wake up every day with the warm body of William by her side, after a tumultuous night of sleep. He would kiss her and make love to her, in a sweet and tender manner, like the waking sun over their skins.
While Will would visit the tenants and check the property, she would spend her day far away from the house, laying on the tall grass and watching the bright blue sky over her head. Usually, she would sleep what she couldn’t during the night, glad that there was her safe heaven, the place where she could, at least, surrender to the slumber.
“Mrs. Bowman was looking for you. She wanted to show you the book with the house expenditures.” He said, supporting his body in his elbow.
“I fear I’ve been avoiding my duties as the lady of the house.” She smiled and he laughed, taking her other hand, that was resting lightly over her stomach, in his.
“You will have time to see that later. We will only be leaving by the end of the month.” He took her hand to his lips, kissing it gently. “Although, I still think you should at least have a look in the menu for today’s dinner.”
“Oh, God!” She exclaimed, closing her eyes in a desperate manner. “Can’t we cancel this dinner? Let it for the end of the month? Maybe change it for a lunch?”
“I’ve already sent the invitations, love.” He had his brows frowned, looking worried to her. “And doctor Blydon will be one of our guests. This is the right moment to check with him your nightly… issues.”
She stood very quiet, watching the clouds slowly gliding through the bright blue sky, the same color of Will’s eyes. The chambers of Lord and Lady Ellesmere were turned facing the park, where deep down stood the ruins of the old monastery. It always has been like that, Lady Louisa, Jamie’s grandmother had told her.
She had said that one of the countesses fancied the view and decided, some centuries ago, that the official quarters of the family would be facing that lovely park. No one dared to contradict her or change her command: they simply accepted it.
And her room was no different, making her hear the terrible buzzing daily and nightly, keeping her tossing around in bed, when William was deep asleep by her side. However, things had gotten worse.
The buzzing, so faint as she arrived in her new home was getting louder and louder. She had started to feel the earth thundering in an ancient rhythm and the clashes of drums could be heard from places were not a sound could come from. She would hear her name, being screamed in the silent night, sorrowful and terrible, a call from ancient beings that realized their mistake and now were trying to fix it.
Well, they would not fix anything.
Peggy had discovered love and affection. She was not only infatuated by the handsome man that became her husband by accident. She was deeply devoted to her new life, although sad to leave her family and friends behind. If she could go back to say good-bye, she would.
But she feared… she feared that if she went back, she would never return to William. Ever again.
“What are you thinking, dear?” He whispered, his eyes melting as he looked at her with complete devotion.
What made her stay was exactly this: the way he looked at her, like she looked at him. He loved her and trusted her, she was sure of it. By the way he spoke to her and took her body every night, she felt safe and cared for.
Her heart was safe from heartbreak, finally. She could have the happy ending she always dreamt of.
“I need to find roses to make arrangements on the table.”
He laughed and rolled on top of her.
“In a minute, Lady Ellesmere. I need to confer something first.”
And he kissed her.
She was standing by the window of her chamber, in a beautiful blue brocade dress, with silvery roses embroidered in it and Belgian lace hanging from the hems. She was wearing the Ellesmere parure, with a sapphire tiara in white gold, earrings and necklace.
Peggy had her brows furrowed and her eyes were zooming around, like they were in the past few days. Since they arrived, she was a bit overwhelmed with the estate and her new position as a countess and William imagined that, with time, she would settle in her new role.
However, as each day passed by, she was more nervous and anxious, always searching for something with her eyes, out of nowhere, like…
Oh, stop thinking those terrible things.
“You’re going to be a fantastic countess, love.” He whispered in her ear, startling her. As she turned around and saw his face, her brows relaxed and a smile showed in her countenance.
“If you say so, I have to believe it.” She paused, taping her fan in his shoulder. “However, deep in my mind I still strongly disagree.”
He laughed, taking her soft lips in his, making his heart thunder under his new vest. Her fingers were holding tightly to the lapels of his coat and she sighed softly against his mouth.
“Don’t you there to sigh like that, Lady Ellesmere…” He murmured, pulling her closer in a tight embrace. “We have guests to attend to.”
“Oh, God!” She complained, her words being muffled over his chest, a look of complete despair in her face. “I don’t want to be a hostess today, William. Can't I stay here? Just say that I’m ill or something like that.”
He pulled her gently from his body and searched her beautiful brown eyes.
“You know I will not do that. You are my wife and I want you there. I need you to be your shiny self, so that every man in that table feel jealous of how lucky I was, to find you and marry you.”
“Oh…” She had tears in her eyes. “You are not being serious.”
“I am.” He answered, taking her cheeks in his hands. “I love you. Truly. Deeply. Fully.”
A tear rolled down her face and William took it with his thumb, protecting her skin from the salty water.
“You shouldn’t say things like this. Or I will smudge the powder.”
“You don’t use powder, Lady Ellesmere. You’re a rebel and you like to break the rules.”
She smiled to him, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. He wanted to take her to their bedroom and love her like he has been doing everyday for the last week. However, his guests were already downstairs, with drinks in hand and gentle words in their lips, waiting to see the woman that caught William Ransom heart and made him go back to Ellesmere Park.
“Dr. Lyndon is here already and I have spoken to him about your… nightly issues.” He added, showing her his arm, so they could walk away together. “He told me that he could brew some concoction to make you sleep. It’s not the better solution but will help while he tries to discover…”
“William, this is not necessary.” She assured him, as the door closed behind them and the two moved in sync through the hallway. “It’s is terrible and tiresome, but it is not the end of the world. Surely, it’s just a matter to get used with the house.”
“It has been a week…”
“Maybe it’s the room. It’s through bright most of the time. Maybe we should change our quarters to the other wing. Or we could stay in Ellesmere House in London. Surely, you can attend your meetings with your tenants and come back every week to see me…”
“I assure you, it’s only a matter of time…”
“You don’t need to worry.”
“But I worry. You know that we are leaving to the colonies in one month. If this is a disease of any kind, we have to discover and treat it fast. You have headaches regularly, you’re always anxious looking around, like someone would catch you and take you away. And at night… you don’t sleep! Every time that I wake up you are there, looking at the window, wide awake, don’t matter the hour.”
“William…” She tried to say, but he interrupted her, pushing her to a corner, protecting them from the eyes of servants.
“No. Mother Isobel discovered she was sick in the boat going to Jamaica, Margareth. If she had discovered it sooner, she would be alive and well right now. She could have seen me married… I don’t want it to happen to you as well…”
Margareth stood very quiet in the shadows of the corridor, her jewels glistening under the faint candlelight. He had poured his heart to her and her fear that something very serious was happening to his lovely wife. William feared her safety and, specially, feared that he would face himself once again by the side of a tiny bed, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, holding the hand of a moribund woman, being left alone and scared.
“I’m sorry. I… It was not my attention.” She whispered, touching gently his face with her gloved hand.
“Just… Just talk to Dr, Lyndon. Please.”
She nodded, first faintly and then harder, to make sure he saw her agreement in the shadows. With a sigh of relief, William pulled her close to his body. She would be fine.
“Are you well, Lady Ellesmere?”
Peggy lift her sight to Mrs. Blydon sitting in front of her, worried eyes staring right back at her. She could feel the sweat dripping from her forehead, slowly dripping on her nose. It was so hot inside the dinning room…
“You’re trembling, sweetie…” Good Johanna Blydon whispered.
Peggy knew that this would happen, since William said that he had invited some neighbors for a dinner to meet the new countess. Since she heard the stones, far away, on that day she first arrived in Ellesmere Park, she knew that would happen.
She couldn’t concentrate, she couldn’t listen to the pleasant voices talking to her by the huge table in William’s mansion. She could only feel the drums entering her skin, the buzzing feeling her ears and the screams… oh the screams… faint in the night or so close that she could almost swear that they were coming from right by her side, where good Dr. Blydon was sitting.
“Louis, look at her! She is white as a paper sheet!” The old lady said to her husband, that was looking worried to the new countess.
“Milady, are you well? Feeling any discomfort?” He asked, in that deep voice that could calm any worried patience. However, for Peggy, it made her more anxious, as it reverberate through her bones like the old drums coming from the ruins of the monastery, calling her through the ages, for her to go back to her previous life as the bored and broke daughter of a Marquis in 2019 England.
“Margareth!” William took her hand, as she shivered uncontrollably.
“I… I fear… I’m not myself tonight.” She murmured, getting up slowly, holding the table with her hands and feeling the ancient beat tremble through the wood as well. “I am extremely sorry, however I must retire…”
The gentlemen all got up, pulling the chair to a distressed countess, looking frail and pale under the candlelight. William took her hand in his, trying to guide her to her chamber, but she shook her head with intent:
“No, please, William. Stay with our guests. It’s already bad that one of the hosts is leaving early.” She smiled, a weak intent of happiness. “I will be fine.”
“Let, at least, Dr. Blydon have a look on you. I’m extremely worried, Margareth.” He spoke softly, as the guests returned to the dinner, looking worried to the hostess and Dr. Blydon kept standing still, looking at the couple some meters ahead.
“Oh, Will, I don’t know…” Another shiver passed through her spine, in rhythm with the drums echoing in her brain.
“Milord, if I may…” Said the good doctor, approaching the couple. He looked worried behind his spectacles, his hands behind her back and his torso very straight, in a military pose she had got used to. “I believe it would be best for Her Ladyship a good night’s rest and tomorrow I will come for a visit, so we can access what is happening. For the moment, ask your chamber maid to bring you a nice herbal tea.”
“See, Will? That’s settles everything. No, go back to our guests. I will be fine.” Peggy announced, leaving the two men looking worried to her, as she staggered towards the stairs, feeling her neck moist with sweat.
The calling kept in her mind, as the maid took her clothes of and put her in a nice and fresh nightgown. She couldn’t avoid walk towards the windows, in the full darkness of her chamber, and place her hand in the cold glass, as her heartbeat to the summoning of the stones.
Everyday it got worse and worse. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat. She couldn’t stop thinking about those she left behind. Those damn stones wanted her back but she wouldn’t go there.
Peggy was happy with her new life. She was happy with William by her side, loving her and cherishing her every day. Why she couldn’t have peace? Why she couldn’t enjoy her life, finally?
“Why are you crying?” Asked William, taking her in his arms, as she trembled with fear.
“What are you doing here?” She babbled. “Our guests…”
“They’ve gone. It’s just us now… Oh, darling… I need to know what’s happening…”
She stopped crying, biting her lower lip, blinking fast. She realized that she couldn’t live like that forever. William needed to know what was happening to her. He deserved to know why she couldn’t stay in Ellesmere Park, after all.
“I’m ready to tell you the truth, Will. And I need you to listen to me.”
Chapter 21: Loves as the truth
“What we are doing?” William asked, as she led the way, her stomach revolting as she got closer and closer to the thundering stones.
She realized that the best way to explain to him all that happened in the last months was showing to him exactly what was happening. So, she took her husband by the hand and they stepped outside the manor, feeling the warm night air in their skin, listening the mystical sounds of nature around them.
She didn’t answer his question, as it was quite obvious where she was taking him. As the old ruins appeared under the moonlight, Peggy heard him sigh softly, remember that night when he found her, unconscious and very upset, with a huge bump in her head and a very raw will to throw up all the champagne she had in the party.
“I found you here.” He whispered, as they walked among the old stones. “Why we are here?”
She took a deep breath and released his hand, crossing her arms in front of her body, shivering in fright, trying to avoid the sheer terror creeping in her mind, as the drums kept thundering higher and higher, making her light-headed and anxious.
“They are the reason I’m here.”
He smiled at her, warm and gentle, his eyes showing the feelings he wanted to share to her in the form of words. However, she couldn’t let him say anything. She knew that if he said those words, of love and devotion, she would give up. She wouldn’t have the guts to tell him the truth.
“Listen…” She said, placing a warm hand over William’s lips. “I just need you to listen. Don’t say a word for now, ok?”
He stared her with those deep blue eyes and nodded, softly, almost imperceptible, as he waited.
That was it, then.
“We are here because they’re the reason I arrived here, William. I… I…” She licked her lips, taking away her fingers from his skin, afraid of what he would do as soon as he heard her story being told out loud. “I met a man, named Liam, some time ago. He was funny, handsome and good to me. So, I fell in love and I… Well, I had sex with him.”
She paused, watching her husband look at her confused.
“We laid together, as husband and wife.” She embraced her body, shivering. “However, everyone discovered about it and the newspapers were publishing the meanest and… well… terrible things. I had to leave London and be free of all the gossip. That’s why I came to Ellesmere Park. My friend James invited me to come.”
“James? James who? Surely…” William tried to say, being interrupted buy her pleading eyes.
“Please, William. Let me finish. He invited me and I came. He had a crazy plan to clean my reputation and save my father’s place in the Parliament that I couldn’t agree with. He wanted to get married and I just… It was not right.” She sighed, watching her husband look confused and lost under the moonlight. “I said no. I really did. However… On the night of the party, he announced our engagement. Which was not true!”
She exclaimed, throwing her hands on the sky, walking vexed around the place.
“I was so upset… I was so angry… I just had to go. I had to leave the party, can’t you see? I didn’t intend to come here…” She looked up, to the beautiful starry night. “My feet were working by themselves. I just got here, with an infuriating yearning to touch that stone…”
She pointed to the center stone, where once stood the baptismal font.
“And I arrived. Here. I must have lost consciousness somewhere in between and bumped my head in the gravel. Alas, I was here, confused and scared and angry. And you found me.”
A deep silence stood between them, making her tremble even more. She watched William walk towards her, his brow furrowed with questions and doubts. She knew he must have been asking himself what he had missed in this whole story: who was James? Why he was inviting strangers to a house that was not his? Why the newspapers were reporting gossips about a high born lady? Who was the man she called father?
So, she had to finish it.
“I’m not the lost Maragerth Bedwyn, Will. The one born 17 years ago, stray in the middle of the ocean until the handsome earl of Ellesmere discovered her unconscious in his doorstep.” She paused, licking her lips, finding the right words. “I’m the Margareth Bedwyn, daughter of the Marquis of Granville, Piers Bedwyn, lawyer and lord of the Parliament, born in the 1st of July of 1999, almost 220 years in the future.”
She took a deep breath.
“I came through those stones, travelling through time until meeting you. Since, I’ve tried to go back to my right place and my right family.” She could feel her voice shake and the tears come back to her eyes. “But I don’t want to go back anymore, Will. I want to stay with you. But the stone keep singing and singing… I think I’m going insane! I can’t stay in Ellesmere Park, William. I have to stay away of those stones!”
She broke off, her body shaking with the violent gulps of air. She feared his reaction, she feared the beating of the stones calling her, the truth leaving her lips forever. However, fear was not needed: arms involved her, as her knees gave in and she dropped on the floor, being caressed by the man she truly loved.
William held in his arms his trembling wife, howling in sadness and grievance. He held her as hard as he could, feeling her body against his in the thin nightgown, the sweet smell of lavender coming from her braided hair.
His mind was racing with the information, trying to tie every piece together. And while he whispered sweet things in her ear, comforting her desperate self, his mind came with the sudden realization:
His wife needed help.
The poor sweet girl had a mental breakdown. That was the only possible reason for the tales that left her mouth. Unrealistic stories about singing stones and time travelling. If she really thought that this was real, she has been leaving in a world of fantasy for too long.
A chill ran through his spine, as another realization hit him: what if she had been living in that fantastical world of fairytale since… well.. since they met?
“Darling…” He whispered, pulling her gently from his body. “Look at me.”
She blinked fast, the tears dripping down her cheek.
“You always knew about that? You knew that you were not… well… in your land?”
She nodded slowly.
“I realized as we were going to London. I knew Towneley Park. I visited there when I was a little girl with my grandmother… I remember the memorial to the fallen… And when I saw the empty park… I realized…”
She stopped looking at him, with a half-smile in her face.
“When I saw you for the first time, I thought I was dead. That was the only explanation to see you in front of me. A man that I have only seen in old, dusty paintings.”
He couldn’t help smile as well. He touched her cheek, staring at those beautiful brown eyes and felt his heart skip a beat, like he was used to every time he laid his eyes in her. However, right now, his mind was racing and his chest was heavy with sadness.
He loved her.
How he loved her.
Holding her against his chest made his mind slow its pace. He found peace again, after a turbulent year discovering the truth about his life and his real father. He was happy and complete like he never felt before.
Once, he thought he would stay alone all his life, dying on the battlefield.
Now, he couldn’t stand being alone again.
He felt his wife calm down under his fingertips and his mind went back to the stories that she told on that starry night. Wonderful and amazing tales, that could have been fun to read in a book, surround by mesmerized children, in a cold winter night. He almost could see him, his boots near the fireplace, a boy by his feet, a young girl in his lap and a baby sleeping in a crib by his side.
He would read the tales from the book in a deep voice, Sometimes, he would play with his boy, messing his hair, or he would softly kiss the top of the head of his beautiful little girl. If the baby moved, he would check it with the corner of his eye, afraid of startling it from the deep slumber.
That was the life he imagined with Peggy, watching her walk towards him in the warm room, with a sly smile in her mouth, listening to him read fantastical story to their children.
However, right now, his wife believed that she was living in one of those fantastical tales, like Don Quijote, fighting mills thinking they are giants, mounted in a sad little donkey that he truly believed was a sorrel.
“You believe me, Will?” She whispered.
How could he brake her fantasy? She was just a lost girl, with a traumatizing past and a hopeful spirit. Dear God, he couldn’t do that to her. He just… couldn’t.
“I do, love.”
Dr. Blydon would know what to do. Maybe what she really needed was a changing of air. Somewhere warm and humid, with warm sandy beaches and blue waters. Where she could rest, allowing her mind to understand everything that happened to her, that changed her little life so drastically.
William would take care of her, this he was sure. He would move heaven and earth to make her feel better and if that meant taking her to the Continent or to the Colonies and giving her time to discover herself.
He would wait for her. He would wait an eternity. Or 200 years.
But he would take care of her.
And all would be well.
This was the first night she had slept. Exhausted by the high emotions and the cry, she bundled next to William’s warm body and just… well… slept.
When she woke up, dizzy and happy, Peggy noticed she was alone in the bed, for the first time in her marriage. Usually, as she was always bright awake by dawn, she would watch the small ritual that Will had to wake up, the way he would stretch in bed and scratch his eyes. He would yawn three times in a row before getting up and walking towards her.
Then, he would take her head in his big hands, planting small kisses all over her skin, before softly taking her lips in his and whispering, with a low voice, good morning.
She stretched in delight, grateful for everything that was happening in her life. Her stomach rumbled and she reminded herself of more mundane things, calling the maid to bring her breakfast, while she got up and got ready for the morning.
It was when the Peggy took away the covers from her warm and rested body, that she started to feel reality creeping in, by the thunderous sounds of the stones. She almost curled herself back to bed, resisting the urge just by the thought that, right now, she wasn’t alone anymore. William knew about her big secret and would protect her from the terrible fate calling her from the beyond.
That mere thought gave her courage to soldier on through the day. She ate all her breakfast for the first time since she arrived in Ellesmere Park, regaining the courage and confidence she lacked to face the stomach curling sounds coming from the woods. She dressed herself in her most beautiful morning dress, a beautiful baby blue with tiny delicate flowers, making her look fresh and… well… alive.
Finally, she was the ladyship of that estate and she would act as one.
Peggy met the maids and the housekeeper, who provided her with a tour through the house, showing her chambers that she didn’t know existed. She checked the domestic accounts in the accounting book and realized that some adjustments had to be made, to not surpass the budget she had.
With the book under her arm, she decided to use William’s office to read and adjust the math, as that room was the lighter room in the house, with big windows and a nice view to the park. Usually, Will would be visiting tenants, helping them on the land or fixing some issues in their ancient houses: he wanted to be a friend to them, after so many years away from the property.
However, as Peggy got closer to the room, she started to hear some voices coming from behind the closed door, serious and worried, clearly from men. One was from William, the other was not very distinctive: she felt like she knew the voice, however wasn’t sure who owned it.
It would be wrong to hear their conversation… Even though she was almost certain that William was dealing with the matters of their change to the United States. Well… Colonies or whatever. So, considering all that, it wouldn’t be wrong to just stay quietly by the door and wait for the meeting to be over. Perhaps, Peggy could even steal some kisses from her husband before going back to her wifely duties…
“… I’m very concerned with her, Louis…” Said William, faintly. “She passed through traumatizing events and I’m feeling guilty for not seeing the signs before… She is living a fairytale…”
“As I said, William, this is the best option: she needs rest and a place where she could get better without external factors worsening her condition.”
“It would be stressful for her to go so far away, alone…”
“She would have the best care there, William. I know Dr. Rossi, we studied together in Paris. He is an amazing man and his team have already taken care of woman like Margareth. It is a common case: they call it female hysteria. She will get better, I promise you.”
“Thank you, Louis. It will be best for her. For us…”
Peggy walked away from the room, her heart blasting in her chest, kicking herself mentally for listening behind the door like a teenager. If she had stayed away from that room, she would still be the cheerful and happy self she was that morning.
And she wouldn’t know that William, actually, didn’t believe her. Or trusted her.
He thought she was a mental person and wanted to send her away, to some weird clinic far away, where she wouldn’t actually be treated. She would be tortured, as mental illness in this century were considered or possessions or witchcraft.
She was the Bertha Rochester all along, when she though she was Jane Eyre. She wouldn’t transform the cold and depressed Mr. Rochester in a kind husband and loving father. She would be shoved in the attic for years, until destroying the place to the ground with uncontrollable fire.
With the accounting book still in her arms, she ran towards her room, jumping in the bed without another care in the world. She would be left and forgotten. Trapped on a time and place where she didn’t belong to, far away from the man she loved, her family that missed her and her own sanity.
All alone. Like before.
So, that was it: according to Mrs. Buchan, he needed the perfect day to summon her from the stones. He had read every article concerning astronomy and astrology. He had searched for every book that spoke about rituals in the henges and their importance.
One thing he was sure: blood sacrifice was needed. And gems.
The blood sacrifice was a bit gruesome, that’s true, but he managed to catch a rabbit deep in the woods. He hoped that was enough. Now, concerning gems, that bit was pretty unclear, making him bring every different type of gem that he found in the safe behind the painting of his great grandfather in his father’s study.
Now, James knew that based on the astrological chart for the month and the similarities with the celebrations of the old folk in the British Isles, he was almost sure that this night would be favorable to him. He would reach her through the thin veil of time and bring her back, from whatever she was. He just had to wait for the dawn.
Placing the carcass of the rabbit in front of the baptismal font, each gem in front of one of the decayed walls, he sat and waited, singing.
He knew that the Celtics would sing praising songs for their gods, but the words got lost over the years. Mrs. Buchan had taught him one that she would sing when I young girl in gaelic and he would sing it softly, as the night went own, in his weird, very obviously English accent.
One the first rays of light appeared far in the horizon, Jamie got up slowly and walked, with certainty towards the main stone, hands forward and the deep confidence that he would rescue his best friend.
Chapter 22: Love as a departure
Peggy felt him before he even got close to her body. The night was already there, heavy and dark, covering the trees far beyond. She sensed him with every fiber of her being, like a bunny being aware of a deadly serpent. It was the way he walked, soft and silently. The way he breath, so calmly.
“You’re looking to the ruins…” He whispered next to her ear and her heart broke a little bit.
She didn’t answer. Peggy, afraid of what she had heard in the dim corridor, wouldn’t dare to say a word, showing him that she knew he didn’t believe her or her story. That she knew that any day now he would send her away, ashamed of her, so called, lunacy.
“You’re thinking about your land?” He insisted, caressing her hair.
He said land. Not time or family. He was carefully using his words, avoiding anything that proved he indeed believed that tale.
Suddenly, her heart broke a little bit more.
“Yes, I am.” She said, in a soft whisper, feeling a huge lump in her throat.
William turned her around, searching her eyes. She couldn’t let him see that she knew the truth behind his gentle words. So, she closed them, enjoying the touch of his hand in her skin.
One last time.
“Don’t worry, love. Everything will be fine…” He kissed the top of her head, gently. “I was thinking of a little trip to the Duchy of Tuscany. I have a friend that lives there and could welcome you.”
“What about you?” Peggy asked, finally opening the eyes, searching for one thing, just one thing: a glimpse of hope.
“I will meet you there, after I arrange some aspects of our lives here.” William paused for a moment, looking beyond her, to the ruins far, far away. “I have to sell my commission in the army and make some last adjustments about the estate here. But I will be with you, in no time.”
The hope was gone, Peggy realized. She was only an empty shell, with a chest where her heart beat no more. She felt numb and lonely, although William now was taking her into his arms, spreading soft kisses over her face.
She knew what she had to do now.
So, one last time, she turned her lips to his mouth, receiving the kisses she so yearned. She hung to him like a drowning person looking for salvation from the raging sea, her hands letting his curls free to her touch, on tiptoe to embrace every piece of him.
William responded to her urge with the same desire and no more words were needed. Clothes were dripping on the floor in a faint thud. The warmth of William’s skin made her shiver, driving him to pull her closer and closer, digging his fingertips in her soft flesh.
With a quick movement, he placed her in his hips, pushing her against the wall, sliding his member inside her with a gasp. She was moist and ready, receiving him with a sigh, her legs closing around his waist, making him get closer to her, deeper, faster.
They reached climax together, tied in sweat and love, low sounds coming from them, as their hearts starts to slow down the beating. Peggy gently rested her head in the nape of his neck, closing her eyes and smelling his scent one last time, musky and mainly as William.
The girl felt him moving, steady steps towards the bed, where he placed her carefully, embracing her warm and tired body from behind, spreading kisses over her moist skin. Peggy didn’t dare speak, afraid of braking that magical bond that made her forget, for a while, her heart brake and her decision.
Now, in his arms, it was like nothing had changed. He was hers and she was his.
It was only when she felt his breathing change to that slow pace characteristic of those in heavy sleep that Peggy got up, gingerly. She didn’t need clothes, per say. Only her nightgown and her robe, protecting her from the cold outside.
The dawn was arriving, at last, painting the sky in pink and orange hues, far away in the horizon. She just walked towards it, being called by the beating stones and the whispers in the wind.
Peggy didn’t fight the calling, anymore. She couldn’t. William didn’t believe her and she couldn’t allow him to send her away from him, to suffer in the hands of strangers in another land.
Her only option was to go back.
Even with this certainty in her mind, she hesitated for a minute. Peggy looked back, to where the mansion stood and thought about going back, insisting to Will believe her.
No, this was not an option.
The only way he would believe her, was the only way that he would never have her again: with her vanishing in the night.
William woke up with the sun hitting him in the face. He looked around confused, realizing he had doze off in Peggy’s room, not his.
He was not surprised that she wasn’t in bed anymore. He knew that she had been having some problems to sleep and, after their little conversation, he was sure that her overactive mind was one of the reasons she was not getting any sleep.
Thankfully, Dr. Rossi would attend to that.
So, the earl got up and attended to his own business: he visited his tenants, checked the field and the crop. Saw the piglets recently born and verified the cattle munching grass over the hill. He spoke to Julius Lindt, his first-hand man, over some modifications he wanted to make about the way they were planting potatoes.
It was nearly lunch when he roamed towards the large tree where his wife would often lay, blinking towards the fair blue sky and singing softly under her breath. However, as he got near her spot, he noticed that she was not there.
Which was unusual, to say the least.
Margareth would often be far away from the house as possible, wandering in the fields on the other side of the estate or laying in her favorite spot.
William decided to go back to the mansion and have a little chat with her. He was worried that she was feeling under the weather or even ill. This could affect all his plans and he would have to speed up her trip to Tuscany, after all.
However, as he entered her favorite rooms, she was nowhere to be seen: library, drawing room, music room, living room… He started to walk faster, buzzing through the halls like lightning, his mind racing in complete panic:
Where was she?
Finally, he got in her room, where her maid stood very still in a corner, playing with her apron. She bolted her head to look who was the person entering the chamber. She seemed disappointed, when she saw the earl in front of her, and returned to her little game.
“What are you doing?” He asked, looking straight at her. Maids wouldn’t allow to stay lazily playing with her apron, in her mistress chamber. He would have a long talk about household with Mrs. Bowman.
“Oh, milord, I’m sorry.” She said, surprised that her master spoke to her, out of the blue. She even stopped messing around with her clothes, putting her hand behind her back and straightening her back. “I was waiting Her Ladyship for her morning routine.”
The sun was already low in the sky, preparing for the sunset…
“What are you talking about? It’s almost evening.” William said, raising his eyebrows and pointing to the pinkish sky.
“I’m sorry, milord.” She bowed her head, ashamed. “Since I didn’t find Her Ladyship this morning, I waited.”
“You didn’t see her?” He asked in a low voice, feeling his palms sweating. “All day?”
The red head denied with a movement of her head, so slight that he thought, for a moment, he was seeing things.
But he didn’t.
His heart was beating fast, thundering in his eardrums, as his mind raced through her words, absorbing what he couldn’t accept: she wasn’t there. Not in the morning, not in the afternoon. If that girl kept waiting her lady all day in the large chamber, the other servants didn’t know about her either.
She was nowhere to be seen.
Without even realizing it, he felt his feet taking him to the stables, where the grooms tended the horses without a worry in the world. All the animals were in their bays, munching hay and blinking slowly to him, not bothered by the frenetic man that searched for a sign.
He kept running, in the open field, towards the ruins that appeared to be smiling to him, a grin of satisfaction and disdain, as the panic and the loss filled his being. It was not a surprise as his feet lost their balance, prompting to the ground with a loud thud.
“Milord!” A man screamed by his side, a sound that sounded muffled, like a drowning person in the raging sea. “Are you alright, sir?”
She couldn’t have left him.
The man helped William to get back on his feet, barely. He felt out of balance, sick in his stomach, his head buzzing with words from two days past…
Margareth Bedwyn… 220 years in the future… James invited me here… I want to stay…
“Gather the men…” William murmured, moisturizing his lips with the tip of his tongue, gathering courage to give the instructions. “I… We…”
I came from the stones… 220 years in the future… I want to stay…
“Your Ladyship disappeared during the day…” The buzzing insisted in the back of his mind. “She is nowhere to be seen.”
I have to stay away from the stones… 220 years in the future… They keep singing…
“We will gather man and find the countess. Or help me God…”
You believe me, Will?
She thought that travelling through time would be easier that time. But the truth was: it was worse. She wasn’t not only nauseous, but she collided with something very hard on her way out, making her body ache with every movement.
She had landed in an uneven ground, apparently. Peggy rolled, finding a more stable area, harder but, at least, plain. Finally, she dared to open her eyes, seeing the bright blue sky over her, cloudless like winter day.
Peggy blinked: one, two, three times, trying to control the nausea and the lump in her throat. Apparently, she couldn’t, as the lump transformed into tears, that slid down her cheeks, towards her ears. Slowly, the silent cry transformed into big gulps of sorrow, her body shacking violently with the terrible sentiment of loss and heartbreak.
“Ouch.” She heard by her side, making her stop the uncontrollable crying.
She sat, quickly, looking at the crumped mass by her side, identifying the broadness of the shoulders and the hue of the hair.
He had followed her. He believed her.
She dragged herself, in her hands and knees, to the man laying on his side, touching him carefully, whispering:
“Oh, God… Oh, God, Will! Are you ok? I’m so sorry, so, so sorry. I thought you would send me away, darling…” She whispered, touching his shoulders and his arms, assuring that he was really there.
However, when she turned him to see his face, the pair of blue eyes were the same she was expecting to see, but the face wasn’t William’s.
He smiled under a swollen cheek, a broad grin that made her remember William’s own smile.
“Oh, God. You’re here!” He exclaimed, the smile broadening and showing a crooked tooth, perhaps a result of her sudden arrival. “You’re really here…”
He cupped her face in his hand and she felt his warmth creeping through his skin. She never thought she would see her best friend again, especially after everything that happened before she left.
After all, James Ransom was the reason why she ran away in the middle of the night and stumbled on those old stone. The reason she met the love of her life. The reason she ran away from the same man, afraid of pain and heartbreak.
“It worked!” He exclaimed once more. “Damn yes!”
And, apparently, he was the reason why she went back through the stones, 220 years into the future.
“James…” She said, feeling the dryness of her mouth. “What are you talking about?”
He pulled her close for a hug, his lips in her ear.
“I called you, Peggy. I called you.”
She pushed him out of the embrace, looking him straight in the eyes.
He looked surprised at her, his blue irises a reflex of his ancestor. Peggy’s confused mind, in a stupor caused by the time vortex, kept changing his features, bringing the face of her husband time and time again.
“Not at first. I thought you were kidnapped by a Scottish separatist.” He said, taking her hand in his. “You know how they are active in the region, specially the anarchists… But, I started to read and research… Something was off.”
Peggy blinked, looking around. It seemed like she was still in the 18th century, with the clear sky and the singing of the birds far beyond on the woods. The realization she was really in the future laid with James smile and the faint sound of the road beyond the estate, where cars going to the village passed every few minutes.
“The tendency and the data didn’t lie. And Mrs. Buchan told me everything, every little bit of story that I needed to find you.” He paused, shaking his head in almost disbelief. “I almost went there to take you back… Why it took you so long to come?”
She couldn’t help the tears that came back to her eyes, as his words kept ringing in her ears, the sudden certainty of regret creeping in the back of her mind. He had asked her why she had taken so long to come back and the truth was simple: she didn’t want to come back.
Even when she was searching for reasons to flee and return to Ellesmere Park, she never really tried to escape. She was completely infatuated by William Ransom and couldn’t help to stay closer to him.
Until she destroyed her only chance of happiness because of some old singing stones. Stones that were calling her name, not because fate wanted her in the right place. They were the sound of a desperate man, calling her through time, thinking she was lost somewhere in the past, when, in reality, she had, finally, found herself.
And Peggy wept, accepting Jamie’s arms around her, giving comfort to her soul.
Chapter 23: Love as loss
London was bubbling with life: since the Brexit, audiences were being held in parliament to make a smoother transition. The House of Lords was filled to the brim and all the lords and ladies were using the opportunity to make soirées and little gatherings, meeting life-long friends who were scattered around the country.
Lord Piers Bedwyn was the leader of opposition and was trying, with all his will, to interrupt the exit and maintain Britain in the European Union. His efforts were put on hold after his only daughter, Lady Margareth, disappeared for two months during a season in the countryside.
The Lord left his duties as head of the labor party and went to the North, trying to discover what had happened to his princess. Nothing was discovered: not a trace was left by the girl, only her shoes and her mobile, scattered around some old ruins near the main house in Ellesmere Park.
He had nearly lost hope, considering talking to his wife and prepare a little gathering, in honor of his daughter, when she reappeared. Wearing only a thin, long, cotton nightgown, she cried for a whole day, as James Ransom reported, before dozing in a long sleep, while waiting for her parents to come get her.
Peggy refused talking to the police about what happened. She refused speaking a word about it to her parents, friends or relatives. She left Ellesmere Park mute and arrived back in their London home, in Mayfair, mute.
She would spend hours looking at the window, staring at the Hyde Park, refusing to meet her friends, do some shopping in Oxford Street or even having lunch. Lord Piers wanted to be with his daughter, trying to take her from a stupor that didn’t want to leave her core, but matters needed to be tended to and he left to the Parliament, once again.
However, Lady Anna Bedwyn, Peggy’s mother, was still invested in her daughter’s cause. She put her charities and affiliations on hold, staying full time at home, thinking about ways to take poor, little Margareth from the window.
“Peggy, dear!” She screamed from the other room, waiting a moment to see if her daughter would respond. The silence remained, as usual.
She walked towards the chamber, watching the pale and skinny figure of the girl in front of the window overlooking Hyde Park. James had come yesterday to talk to her, waiting as his questions were left unanswered in the quiet house. He vowed to come back but Anna thought with herself, that it was no use the boy come every day to see Peggy.
Her grievance had a source no man could take her from.
“Peggy, dear! I need a favor.” She said, watching her daughters head bob in her direction, intrigued by her words. Since she arrived back home, no one dared to ask her to do anything. She was treated like a porcelain doll, surrounded by the pleasures of nobility in her doll house.
Peggy thought, deep in her pain and regret, she would never be of use, ever again. And now, her mother was coming towards her, asking for something.
“Yes…?” She answered, afraid of what her mother would say.
“Your father forgot important documents for the plenary session in his office and he can’t come back to get those. So, I wanted to know if you could deliver it to him.”
“Deliver to him?” Peggy asked, sounding a bit dubious.
“In the Parliament?”
“You’re absolutely correct.”
“And no one but me can do this?” Peggy raised one eyebrow, making Lady Anna almost smile in delight. That was the first movement she saw in her daughter’s face since she arrived back home.
“Of course, there are others who can do that, dear, but you seem to be doing nothing of use today and all the staff is very busy preparing to your grandmother’s arrival… So, clearly…”
Every time Lady Clarice came to stay with the Bedwyns in London, a war operation was built inside those walls, to make sure that every little desire and request of the old lady would be attended. If not done so, she would spend two whole weeks complaining with the closest pair of ears. And it would be unbearable.
“I see…” Said Peggy, getting up and looking for her slippers. “Where are those papers?”
Lady Anna could have clapped in delight.
“Oh, in the entrance, dear! Just change real quick and grab those papers!” Her mother said, approaching her daughter with a warm smile in her face, that disappeared quickly as she got close enough to smell her so-called princess. “Well, maybe take a quick shower too. Always goof for your health!”
“Mother!” Peggy complained, as she was being taken up the stairs by Lady Anna. “Are you saying that I stink?”
But the Lady didn’t answer, humming softly under her breath, feeling the joy creeping in as she finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. And it was beautiful.
William was sitting in his office, his eyes fixed in the window in front of him, the sun shining over the stones far beyond the woods. He felt like he has been watching those ruins for a lifetime, waiting…
Waiting for what?
He shook his head, trying to take away the voice, her voice, that whispered over and over again the words she had last said to him, when she confided her deepest and truest secret. And he didn’t believe her.
How could he? She was telling stories of mystery and magic, of old stones and ancient beings. He grew believing in science and logic, surrounded by a team of the best tutors money could afford. They came from all over the world, filling his mind with books and numbers, while he watched the sons of the farmers and tenants playing in the fields.
He didn’t believe her because, deep in his mind, he knew that science was able to explain everything. Science, with its studies on the human brain and the vapors that came from the sewage, the beings that could make a healthy person sick and a sick person healthy.
That’s why he thought it was the right thing he was doing when he told her story to Dr. Blydon and accepted his suggestion to send her to Dr. Rossi clinic in the Tuscany. He thought he was saving her, helping her. Curing her.
However, she ran away, after receiving him in her arms one last time, before vanishing in the night, without saying goodbye. William searched for her, thinking she would be close, that he would manage to find her and take his wife back home.
He was wrong: he knew the truth, in the back of his mind, in the part where his inner child still lived and breathed, waiting for the moment where fairies and monsters would be real again. He heard the little voice, repeating and repeating her story and his mind would go back to the stones that she said took her there.
If they took her there, they could take her away as well.
But why would she leave?
He asked himself once more, blinking many times in a row, trying to avoid the tears that he felt coming. He loved her and she loved him. It didn’t make any sense for her to leave.
She said she wanted to stay.
But he wanted to send her away and he told her in the last day she was with him. He told her she was going away, to get better…
You believe me, Will?
He didn’t. And he lied.
He passed his hand over his face, feeling the bushy beard that appeared in the last few weeks. He avoided looking at it in the mirror, as he knew that the color, a bright auburn, would remember him of another problem in his life that was left unsolved.
God, he was a mess…
“William…” He heard from behind and for a moment he heard her voice. Her voice.
“You need to go…” The voice continued and he realized it came from Aunt Minnie.
“I can’t.” He answered, trying to control the tightness in his throat.
“You have to. The army has called you.” She paused, unable to know how to continue. “Your leave has ended for nearly one month, dear. If you don’t go, you will go to martial court.”
He felt his aunt walking towards him, her hand pausing in his shoulder, trying to give him the strength he didn’t had right now.
“She is gone, William.”
He saw her blond hair in his field of vision, worried blue eyes laying in his tired face. He felt like garbage and, most probably, was looking like garbage too.
“So why you keep waiting for her, dear?” She whispered, her hands caressing gently his hair.
He paused, feeling his tongue heavy and his mouth dry. William wished he couldn’t answer this question. Wished he could send his aunt far away, to a place where she couldn’t bother him anymore. He just needed some time alone.
A time to feel the guilt and pain creep in his soul, as the memories of his mistake ran in his brain.
She would not be satisfied with that and would give in. Minerva would take the answer she needed, in one way or another:
“She left her husband without any explanation. Her family. Her grandfather is devastated, William…”
“No.” He said, startling her. “They weren’t her family.”
He sighed, feeling the tears dripping down his cheeks and continued:
“She only had me in this whole world and I didn’t trust her. But now I do. She must know that… Now… I do…”
She went up the stairs of the tube, heading back home. She had delivered the package in the front desk of the Parliament and had some torturing minutes of small talk with Evan, the police officer who practically saw her grow up.
Peggy was happy, in a way, that her mother forced her to get out of the house. She had been commiserating herself in misery, filling all her thoughts in loneliness and despair. Finally, after so many days reclused in her pain, she had the opportunity to live again.
Or, at least, try to.
She enjoyed roaming under the corridors of the tube, watching the constant movement of people, rushing in and out of the cars, mobiles in hand, suitcases following their steps. She would stare at the old souls reading The Times quietly, used to the sudden movements and the announcements on the speakers. The couples sharing kisses and holding hands, stollen smiles and quiet laughs, jumping out of the car with a happiness she barely couldn’t remember.
She swept her oyster in an automatic motion, her mind still fixed on that joyful couple and the stollen kisses, barely noticing where she left. Peggy only followed them, nearly a stalkerish movement, watching from far away their whispers.
So, she was surprised when she saw the imponent form of Argus House in front of her, just in the edge of Hyde Park, the same place where it stood for 220 years. The couple continued their stroll, leaving a perplexed Peggy behind.
Since her arrival back in her own time, her only thoughts were directed to William. She didn’t stop to think about the other lives she met and befriended. Including the good Lady Minerva Grey, who had housed her and protected her when she landed in the past like a ripe mango.
Peggy didn’t know how long she stood in the sidewalk, just staring at the old manor, now a museum, in the edge of the most famous park in England. She only knew that, by the time she returned home, the sky was dark and the streets quiet.
“Dear God!” She heard, as soon she opened the door. “Where have you been?”
Peggy felt the arms of her mother embracing her, taking her against her slim body, shivering of sheer terror. Over her shoulder, she could see her father, standing very still in the corridor, his brows furrowed in anger and… sadness?
“I…I lost track of time, mom…” She mumbled, trying to get away of the trap created by her mother’s limbs. “It’s ok…”
“Ok??” Asked, surprised, Lady Anna. “You disappeared for two months and when you’re back…you…I…”
Peggy was surprised to see the tears rolling down the face of her mother, known to be a stoic iceberg in the British society.
“Mommy!” It was the first time, since she was a child, that she called her mom like that.
“You’re broken, Peggy.” Her father said, approaching their girls, placing a protective hand in Lady Anna’s shoulder. “You keep telling us that you’re fine, but you’re not. You refused talking to the police, going to the hospital, going to the therapy…”
“You wouldn’t talk to us… We never got to know what happened to you, really…” Her mother mumbled, rubbing away the tears. “Me and your father spent sleepless nights, thinking about all the terrible things that happened to you, things terrible enough to transform our little girl in… in this…”
“Oh, God, daddy!” She exclaimed. “Mommy! I was not abused!”
A silence stroke down the corridor, leaving surprised faces in Lord and Lady Bedwyn.
“I…I was treated kindly. I…” God, why it was so hard to speak? “I had friends. They loved me and… I… I loved them. I didn’t want to, but I did.”
She felt like suffocating, finally admitting that she, indeed, missed those friends from the past. Peggy missed Lady Minerva. Lord Ashbourne. Lord Bedwyn. Lady Hunt and that fool of her nephew. Oh, how she felt like throwing up…
“I wasn’t kidnapped. Stollen or whatever.” She continued, feeling like she would get short of breath in any time soon. “I got lost, mommy. And they took care of me.”
“You could have come back home sooner?” Her father asked, frowned brows and all.
“I could.” She finally admitted. “But I didn’t. I… I was mesmerized. It was a new life, a new world, away from the hell breaking loose because of Liam and Jamie and… And I was happy. I missed you and mommy and grandma Clarice. But I was happy.”
“I don’t understand, dear…” Whispered her mom, combing the hair out of her daughter’s face.
“I came back because I thought I wouldn’t be happy anymore. And now… I don’t feel happy. I don’t think I will ever be happy. Ever again.”
With a sob, she felt the arms of her parents evolving her in a desperate need to comfort, taking their little girl back where she belonged and giving her the peace of mind of having someone who really cared for her, protecting her body and mind, once more.
Chapter 24: Love as a paradox
It felt like Lady Clarice has been visiting the Bedwyns for nearly three years when, in fact, it has been only two months. Hints were being dropped around the house, questioning when the old lady would leave for the New York season, to visit the Rockfellers and the Vandebilts. However, she dismissed all the comments, refilling her gin tonic and reading the gossip about her peers.
It has been two months since Peggy broke down in front of her parents. Two months that she was, slowly, recovering from the sudden departure from somewhere in the past. Two months that William’s face grew fainter in her mind, allowing her to start living a life.
After so many days in the past, she had grown accustomed to the long skirts and the stays. Miss Bedwyn missed the sound of hooves in the dirt and the shackle of carriages. The screams of street vendors calling costumers to taste and buy their products. The smell of fish near the riverbank. The sky full of stars.
She shook her head, returning to the laces of her sneakers as more runners passed by her in that chilling morning in the Hyde Park.
In the past, she had missed the sneakers, far more comfortable than those she would wear under her huge dresses and panniers. Back then, they didn’t differentiate left and right feet and every pair had a strange fitting on them.
She had missed listening to music, putting her earphones and just drowning in sound. Peggy was never a big fan of classical music and always felt weird dancing to those old tunes in the soirées.
Peggy had missed toilets and showers. Running water. Electricity. Cars.
She was happy she was back in her own time and place. It was the right thing, after all. She made the right decision.
The girl got up, smelling the green leaves in the air, the smell of summer surrounding her and prompting her to keep running, chasing the squirrels playing between the legs of the other runners, bathing in the blue sky, enjoying that feeling of renewal.
She only stopped when she stepped on her house, turning of the music from the phone and taking the buds from her ears. She was sweaty and gross, deserving a warm shower and some sleep.
After that, she could call the student office in Oxford, arranging her return for next semester. By the new year, she would be ready to restart her classes.
She felt her mouth dry and the sickness coming back to her stomach. She had been avoiding him like the plague, since her return. Since she… she coped with her decisions.
Her mother didn’t understand why she dreaded so much his company, considering that James had taken her to his home, giving her food, water and a place to sleep while he ringed the Bedwyns home announcing the return of their daughter. He took care of her, Lady Anna kept saying. It was rude to refuse his company.
Even when they said the fight would strangle the friendship between the Ramson’s and the Bedwyn’s, Peggy was adamant: she would not receive James Ransom in her home.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, passing by him without stopping.
“I need to talk to you.” He answered, following her to the stairs.
“No, you don’t. Please, leave.” She paused in the stair, motioning towards the entrance door.
“I will not.”
“Oh, you will.” She confirmed, screaming in the top of her lungs: “Steveeeeens!”
“He is not here. He went with your father to check grocery shopping to the party your grandmother is giving this Saturday.” He moved his eyebrow in a way that Peggy almost cried.
He looked so much like William… It was like he was in front of her, with that sly smile and the cock in his head…
Stop that! You forgot him, remember? He didn’t trust you. He didn’t love you. He didn’t want you.
“Please, Jamie…” She begged, turning her back to him, climbing those stairs out of breath. “Just…go.”
What followed took her by surprise:
“You were William Ransom’s wife.”
She turned, slowly, a sudden urge to ran away almost taking control of her body. She was expecting that Jamie would figure it out… After all, he knew the true nature of her disappearance. He called her back through the stones, relinquishing in information from an old lady, books about witchcraft and the study of the stars. But not like that. Not so soon.
“James… Just leave that behind. For my family. For me. For our friendship.” She whispered, feeling the tears coming back to her face.
“No. I…” He paused. “If you are his wife, you’re the reason why I’m here. You’re my great-grandmother. And I need your help.”
“If you want my inheritance, go ahead. You’re 200 years late…” She mocked, turning her back again.
“I need your help because… I think William is going to die.” His voice crept in her mind. “And I think all Ransom’s are going to die as well.”
William got out of the tavern, adjusting his blue overcoat and watching his surroundings. He had returned from England two weeks ago, with a bright red beard and a broken heart.
Lord Rokesby went to Ellesmere Park and took the boy away from the house, shoveling him inside the carriage and making sure he would not dive from the ship as soon it left the harbor. Now, after spilling his guts out of the ship and spending a time watching the bright stars over the Atlantic, William knew that the man had the best intentions when he knocked the earl unconscious and made sure he would get back to the army.
He could have been killed for desertion. His soldiers, poor men that relied on his command, would had suffered from his own actions.
That was enough to move William, only enough to guarantee that everything would be fine with those who depended on him.
New York was left for the revolutionary troops in an unprecedent action by the British army. Not a red coat could be seen in miles and that’s why William was dressed as a civilian: the matters he needed to attend in the city required somewhat of a more… discreet… action.
So, it was for his surprise that he heard a voice calling his name:
“William? William? Mr. Ransom?”
He turned around, seeing the figure of the small-boned man, with olive brown eyes smiling at him. He seemed cheerful and younger than he was when William left for England, in what seemed ages ago.
“Dr. Hunter…” William said, smiling to the friend. “What a pleasure!”
The good doctor involved William in a tight hug, laughing with joy. Certainly, the war had messed with his sanity…
“I can’t believe you’re here! Lord John had told us you were back in England!” He paused, his smile sparkling in his eyes. “Now, you must come to dinner with us! Dottie will be out of her mind with joy!”
William started to follow the man, intoxicated by the young New York city. Soon, they arrived in the Hunter’s house, quite small but tidy. It smelled of wood and stew, with faint sounds coming from the kitchens: the clatter of pans, the chopping of meat and vegetables, the low conversation of women…
He turned around to see Dottie coming from a room in the west side of the house. She was wearing a plain grey dress, with a little white lace in the cuffs. The earl was used to see his cousin using the most sumptuous fabrics and laces, adorning her face with jewels and her hair with ribbons. It was a weird image, her new married self.
“Hello, Dottie!” She jumped to him, while Denzell smiled with warm and walked towards his office. He would give time for the two friends to talk.
“Oh, Dear God!” She paused, reprimanding herself to not say the name of the Lord in vain. “I thought you were in England!”
“Well, I…” He started to say, but the faint sound of crying came to his ears. It was a whimper, so common to young children, that made him confused for a moment. As he stared at the door where Dottie had come (and where the sound was coming from), he saw her blush by his side, clasping her hands tight in front of her. “Dottie?”
She smiled, taking him by the hand and whispering:
“Come. You need to see your goddaughter…”
William lost the ability to breath, as he entered the small room where a crib stood very still and the faint whimper came from. He could see tiny arms moving around and tiny legs kicking a blanket. The round head and the very blond hair denounced who its mother was.
Dottie bowed towards the crib, taking the baby in her arms and walking to William. She had a warm smile in her face and her blue eyes sparkled with joy.
“I want you to meet Minnie.” She said, giving the small child to a flabbergasted earl. “Minnie, this is your godfather, William.”
He felt out of breath with the vision of such a small bundle in his strong arms. Suddenly, all the vivid images he had cultivated in his last days of marriage came back into his mind: of children hugging him tightly, of round bellies and small feet. Of Peggy’s warm smile as she lulled their baby.
Oh God, he missed her.
“Are you well, William?” Dottie asked, as he allowed the baby girl to play with his fingers.
No, he wasn’t well. He had been lost since Peggy left him and he thought he couldn’t find a way out. How could he talk to his family about all the doubts he had? All the things that happened in his life? His big and loud family, with an opinion always in the tip of the tongue was not the best to pour his heart to. Not now, when he just wanted to be heard and not judged.
Well. There was someone. A woman with a heart of gold, living far away in the North Carolina’s mountains.
A woman that happened to be his stepmother.
“Jamie.” She paused, blinking fast, fearing for his sanity. “You are aware that we are 220 years in the future? And that William and all the others are dead, right?”
“Yes.” He said, looking pissed. “I’m not stupid.”
“Well, it looks like you are.” She laughed, shacking her buds towards him. “They are not vampires, James. You’re just giving excuses to…”
But he didn’t let her finish.
“You don’t understand!” He walked towards Peggy in the stairs, placing a frustrated hand in the bannister. “Mrs. Buchan said that the past and the present are in parallel. They run together and everything that happens in the past is happening as well in the present and vice versa.”
She looked confused at him, unaware of what he was saying. Was he really trying to say that…? No. The past couldn’t be change. This was a fact known by all the physicists. Simply, if this was real, it would create a paradox and… well… havoc, basically.
She knew that from all the Doctor Who reruns.
“I’ve received a call from a museum in North Carolina. They are restoring some of their collection and… and they found this.” He took his mobile from the back pocket of his jeans, unlocking the screen and showing to his friend. “It’s a letter informing of William Ransom disappearance in the siege of Savannah. You know that my family kept a very well recorded account of every earl and I’ve never seen that. According to the documents we have, he came back from the war. He was never in any danger.”
She took the phone from his hands, looking at the screen with her heart in her throat.
“But here… He was considered lost in action.”
“What you’re saying, James?” She whispered, as her eyes read the same words time and time again. “Are you saying that William died? That he died in the mud, alone, without a soul to claim the body?”
“I… William was a soldier, Peggy. He knew the risks when he kept his post in the army. He didn’t need to, after all. He was an earl, with a position in the parliament…” He tried to calm her, who kept shacking uncontrollably in front of him. “But… I think so…”
“Do you think that I…” She paused, lifting her brown eyes to him. “That I changed the past? This… this is impossible, James! The past is already written!”
“I don’t think it is.” He said, taking the phone from her numb fingers and guarding it back where it belonged. “I think past is happening as we speak.”
“This… This is impossible.” Peggy stammered, feeling the tightness in her throat. “This… this is a paradox, Jamie. If what you’re saying is right, it is… well… wrong! And absurd! And a mess! You’re here, can’t you see? If William is truly missing… You couldn’t be here.”
She placed a hand over his heart. He placed a hand over her own, feeling his heartbeat under their warmth skin, as his mind raced. She was absolutely right, after all. This didn’t make any sense! It would create a paradox and chaos would come. But, since when did time travel ever make sense?
“I… I think you should leave, Jamie.” She whispered, with her hands still feeling his constant heartbeat. She couldn’t think straight, his words zooming in her mind like bees, giving her headache and an unbearable urge to cry. “I can’t think about it right now.”
He nodded for a moment, placing a gentle hand over her shoulder, trying to give Peggy the strength she needed in that moment.
“I will meet the curator of this museum in two weeks. If you want to join me, I would love that.” He turned to the entrance, checking his pockets. “He said that he might have some interesting documents for me to check.”
He was walking away, dropped shoulders and a soft pace. Even so, he was standing high above everything in her house, reminding her of the statuesque oppression of her husband’s own height. William.
“Wait. Jamie.” She called, making him turn to her with hope in his eyes. “How did you know that I was William’s wife?”
He smiled, walking towards her, searching in his jacket for something. A piece of paper, a print of some kind, that he gave to her with a fluid motion.
“He wrote to you, Peggs. He remembered you in his last hours.” He paused, his smile dropping in his mouth and sad eyes conquering his face. “If I knew about… about you and him… I… I wouldn’t have called you. He truly worshiped you, Peggs.”
She barely noticed as James walked away from her house. She was already sitting on the stairs, opening the paper and reading the scan of an old letter, addressed to Margareth Bedwyn, the 9th countess of Ellesmere.
I do not have much time. I miss you and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I let you go away. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you. Everyday, since the last time we saw each other, you’ve been in my mind, a constant shadow over my heart.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to call you back. I hope this letter find you in the years to come and bring you back to me. I want you by my side, a child in my lap and a babe in your arms.
Yours, truly and always,
Chapter 25: Love as goodbyes
This impromptu party was an idea of Lady Clarice, as a matter of fact. What would have been a dinner in a Saturday night to all her society friends became a little soirée for the family. Only the family, gladly.
Margareth hadn’t answered James about his invitation to go with him to North Carolina. Her mind was racing still with all his stories about magic and time paradox, fixed in that small state, beyond the Atlantic Ocean.
North Carolina, where her husband stood breathing one last time. Before…
Before what? You don’t even know if James theory is true!
She shook her head and turned her attention back to her parents. They were dancing near the orchids, Lady Anna’s head resting gently in Lord Piers shoulder, while they swayed slowly with the music.
Sometimes, her father would move his head slightly to whisper something in her mother’s ear. She would smile and answer something in return. This sweet image, of a couple in love for so long, made her heart ache and, at the same time, her stomach turn upside down, revolted by the mere thought of true love.
“You seem like you’re going to throw up in any minute now.” Announced Lady Clarice, sitting by her side with a sidecar in her hand.
“Oh, nana, you always have lovely words to say.”
“Pff!” Answered her grandmother, motioning with her hand, dismissing the comment. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
Peggy didn’t answer, her eyes still fixed in the couple rocking one side to the other.
“So, you’re going to ignore me?” Lady Clarice continued. “That’s not a nice way to treat your grandmother, who has only some more years in the Earth.”
“If God is merciful.” Peggy whispered, adjusting in the chair.
“I don’t know if this attitude is related to what happened to you in the last months or if it’s just your poor education finally showing up…” Her grandmother whispered next to her, watching her son dancing with her daughter in law. “It’s hard to say, considering that we really don’t know what happened in the North.”
“Nana, let it be. I’m fine.” Margareth answered, motioning to get up, but her grandmother’s hand evolved her wrist, pulling her back to her seat.
“Unfortunately, to you, Margareth, you’re just like me.” The old lady said, looking her straight in the eye with those false eyelashes, so long that she could barely open them. “You think that I have always been a strong, independent woman, a leader for our peers, if you may…”
“More like a dragon…” Peggy murmured under her breath.
“… but what you don’t know is that before the years wore me down, I was just like you. A romantic and helpless soul, that could have been destroyed and broken down if I didn’t had taken charge of my own life.”
“It was the fifties. The economy was in shambles and my mother was working as a seamstress in Oxford Street. I met your grandfather there. He was nine years older than me, a lawyer, and was buying a glove for his fiancée.”
Peggy stood very quiet, embarking in a journey she never heard of.
“He enjoyed mommy’s work and decided to see if she could sew him a suit. Almost every week he would came and we would chat over the counter. He was handsome and so smart… I fell in love. He started to come two times a week, three times, until he was passing by the shop every day. He was in love too.”
She paused, taking a sip from the sidecar.
“But he was still engaged. When he took my hand, as he drove me home one day, I asked him to leave and never come back. I said to him nasty, awful things. We were playing with someone else’s heart, even if we didn’t do anything concretely. So, I pushed him away and went to spend some days with my grandparents in Bristol.”
“What happened, nana?” Peggy whispered, unable to say it louder because of the lump in her throat. “He went to Bristol, to find you?”
“Oh, God, no! Your grandfather had much more sense than that. No. He knew he was wrong, so he broke the engagement and lived miserably, until I went back to find him.”
“You went back?” Peggy whispered. “But… why?”
“Why not, Margareth?” Her grandmother asked, pissed. “I loved him and I couldn’t forget the man. And apparently, he couldn’t forget me.”
“What are you trying to say, Nana?” She asked, gently.
“Well, Margareth. I don’t know. It depends.” She paused, blinking like a young girl. “What do you think I’m trying to say?”
It was weird to be back in that place. How long he had last seen those lands? Smell the fresh scent coming from the pines, hearing the birds singing on those tall trees far in the woods?
He remembered coming there when he was only a boy, with his father by his side, when there were only a few settlers and the Fraser’s lived in a small cabin deep in the woods. It was tiny, dark and had a strange smell, but both Mrs. and Mr. Fraser seemed to love there.
They seemed to love each other.
This was before Mrs. Fraser became Mother Claire, when she married his father, Lord John Grey. However, little did he know that she was always Mother Claire to him, as she was married to his real father, James Fraser, the Scottish prisoner.
He walked slowly through the Fraser’s lands, watching the big house in the top of the hill, where stood a woman, with bright red hair, playing with a baby in her lap. William saw her raising her head, cuddling the child in her arms and walking towards his horse. As she got closer and closer, he was able to recognize her features: the blue, feline like eyes, the curve of the nose, so similar to his, the smile.
“William!” Brianna exclaimed, as he got off the horse, harness in hand, searching for a place to tie it.
“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Mackenzie. How is your husband? Your children?” He asked, prepping the horse and walking towards his sister, smile fixed in his face. She was a beautiful woman, tall, slender and pale. She had smart eyes and a heart of gold, something inherited from her mother, Mrs. Fraser.
“They all fare well, Lord Ellesmere.” She said with some sarcasm in her voice and William realized he was being too formal. Well, he blamed that in all the years spending time with the high nobility in England.
“Apparently, the stork has been kind this year.” He commented, glancing at the baby in her arms, brown hair showing under the cap of the blankets. “Congratulations, Mrs. Mackenzie.”
Brianna blushed and shook her head, dismissing his words:
“This one is not mine, milord. This is the son of Ian Murray, my cousin.”
William looked at the child, searching for its features with care. Yes, he could see her… Rachel was there, mingled with Ian’s brown hair and eyes. He didn’t know what to say… Rachel and Dottie had children, blessing Ian and Denzell with little people to call their own.
He could see the happiness. He could see the joy. And that… that made him angry. No, not angry. Frustrated? Heartbroken? Devastated?
“I suppose you came to see Da’.” She said, gently. Her eyes had a careful smile in them, afraid of showing him that the truth was well known. “He is visiting some new settlers, in the other side of the land… I don’t know…”
“No… I…” He paused. “I came to see your mother.”
She lifted her red eyebrows in surprise. Nodding slightly, she turned to where he supposed was Claire’s office and he could see a shadow moving by the window. There she was, working in her studies, doing God knows what that woman usually did with her free time, when she was not taking care of the sick.
“Mama?” Brianna asked, a bit surprise. “Well, she is in the office… I believe she doesn’t have any patients waiting for her.”
He nodded, smiling kindly to his sister and the baby in her arms. Would he ever hold a baby like she was holding? Would he ever feel the joy of parenthood?
William knocked on the door, taking of his heat and tapping his shoes on the carpet, trying to take away the dust that insisted in lingering on his clothes. He raised his head quickly, as the door opened and Claire smiled to him.
“I need to talk to you.” He blurted, feeling like a young boy again, out of school and shamming himself in front of the adults.
Her kind smile didn’t leave her face. Her golden eyes, that matched her hair so well, shone with something… well… something he thought it was love. Did Mrs. Fraser loved him? This was not right… He was the bastard son of her husband, born while they were still married, although living apart.
That lady was, indeed, one of a kind.
She motioned for him to come inside, forcing him to see, for the first time, the interior of her office. Mrs. Fraser was a well-known physician and people from all over North Carolina came to see her, so she could care for their suffering. The rumors were that she was such a good physician that if you had to go to surgery in her hands, you would not feel a thing.
“William, what do you wish to talk about?” She said, rubbing her hand in her apron and closing her arms over her chest. “I suppose that for you to come all way over England, it had to be very important.”
“Actually… I got married. And fell in love. And then she ran away.” William stopped, looking confused. “I just need to talk to someone because… God, I miss her.”
Claire walked to her husband’s son, placing a gentle hand over his shoulder, high above her and asked, in a low and kind voice:
“What was her name?”
“Are you sure about this, sweetheart?” Her mother questioned, as they watched her grandmother’s suitcases being taken to the cars waiting for them.
Lady Clarice insisted in using old trunks bought in the 60’s back in a visit to Paris. They were huge and heavy, very unpractical, forcing Lady Clarice to pay for the extra weight being placed inside the airplane.
Maybe, Peggy’s grandmother was the only person alive in Britain that still took, as cabin luggage, hat boxes.
“I am, mom.” Peggy said, turning back to see Lady Anna’s eyes. “Why are you and dad so scared?”
Since Peggy made the decision of going to the United States with James, to discover what happened to William Ransom in the past (or the future, depending on your view regarding time travelling), Lady Anna and Lord Piers were over the edge in apprehension and excitement.
Margareth would watch her mother going up and down, planning a trip that would not follow the most visited places in North Carolina or taste the most edgy restaurants in the area. Her father was trying to book plane tickets, train tickets and find a suite in The Plaza, the only hotel that Lady Clarice thought suited her in New York.
That was the plan, after all: James and Peggy would go with her grandmother to New York and, from there, catch a train to Charlotte, in North Carolina. It would take longer than a quick flight, but both of them wanted to see the landscape, learn about parts of the country they didn’t known before.
From Charlotte, they could grab a car and travel towards Blowing Rock, where the Fraser’s Ridge Museum stood, quietly, waiting for their visit. James had already got in contact with the curator, a man named Jeremiah Mackenzie, who have been taking care of the lands since his early twenties.
After all, it was from his family.
“Well, darling…” Lady Anna started to say, hands moving against one another, anxiously. “Last time you travelled with your grandmother, you disappeared for two months.”
A weird silence stood between them, as Peggy thought about the real reason she was going to America with Lady Clarice. Her mother didn’t know that her daughter was meddling with the past, again. And, after that night, watching her parents dance under the stars, listening to the words of wisdom of Lady Clarice Bedwyn (who would say?), she finally realized that, to save William and James family, she would go back through the stones.
Because, oh God, she missed William. And she wanted him badly.
One thing she was sure: if she travelled back to the past to stay with William, she would stay with him. No matter what happened.
“Mom…” Peggy whispered, taking Lady Anna’s hands in hers. “Do you know that I spent all my days thinking about you and dad when I was missing?”
Her mother smiled slightly.
“What are you trying to say, Margareth Bedwyn?”
“I am saying that… I love you. I love dad. I think I even love grandma Clarice…” Her mother grinned slightly with the sharp comment, so common of her daughter to do so. “But…I think that I don’t need to be with you to love. I can love from afar.”
Her mother stared her right in the eyes, waiting for her to continue her speech. Many things were being left unsaid, as Peggy knew they weren’t ready to hear the truth. Maybe, one day… someday… they will truly know…
“I have my memories. I will always remember you and dad dancing under the stars, Nana Clarice drinking sidecars and Jamie pulling my ponytail when we were children. These will have to be enough… Someday.”
Her mother gasped, controlling the tears that appeared in her eyes. She grasped her daughter in her arms, thinking about what to say, as Lord Piers called Peggy’s name, calling her to go.
“I just want you to be happy, darling.” Lady Anna said, taking her daughter’s cheeks in her hands and smiling tenderly. Peggy hold those hands, warmly, kissing the woman in her both cheeks, before walking towards her father, waiting by one of the cars.
“What did you say to your mother?” Her father asked, watching his wife from afar. “It seems like she’s crying…”
“Oh, daddy! I love you!” Peggy exclaimed, throwing her arms around the old gentleman, rejoicing in the warm embrace.
“Oh, well, dear… I love you too.” Answered Lord Piers, in the most English way possible, uncomfortable by the vast range of emotions they were sharing today.
“I will be fine. I promise.” Peggy whispered in his ear, still holding tight to him. “Don’t worry.”
On that moment, Lord Piers didn’t quite understand what his daughter meant. However, a strange feeling crept in, assuring and calming him. A guarantee that, indeed, everything would be just… fine.
Chapter 26: Love as the past
Slowly, the temperature was decreasing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Peggy wouldn’t say that it was similar to the English weather, a grey and chilling thing, that was only attractive to tourist and maniacs.
No. It was different shades of green, mixed with the red and orange hues coming from the autumn approaching the city. It was the largest city in the area, but it was calm and somewhat… rural… in the way people walked down the streets without much worries, the trees on the sidewalks, the birds singing in every corner.
She could be used to that, Peggy thought, watching the high, glazed buildings shinning in the morning sun, as they drove on the highway, crossing the city towards Blowing Rock. There was the museum where Jamie received the documents about William Ransom, the earl of Ellesmere and her husband.
Most of the documents where in a very critical state and couldn’t be read through the scanned image. That made Jamie, his heir, fly through the Atlantic Ocean, just to see what happened to the man.
After all, if he did disappear during the Siege of Savannah… Well… James wouldn’t be here in the next month. Or so he thought.
Now, what prompt Margareth to accept her friend’s crazy idea and jump on a British Airways flight with him was a letter. A love letter and a confession. Written in a broken and yellow paper, those words survived the centuries, calling for her and begging for forgiveness.
She knew she had forgiven him in the moment she saw his handwriting, after all those years.
Love was a stupid thing.
The morning sun was coming up from the mountains and she breathed the fresh morning air. The road was quiet and she mostly could hear only the sound of the engine and the forest around then, as they followed the instructions in the app.
She had made some research about the museum: it used to be, during the end of the 18th century and the most part of the 19th century a great estate, owned by Mr. James Fraser and his wife Claire. The estate, after the death of both, went to their son in law, Roger Mackenzie, followed by his son-in-law, Mr. Alfred Owen, married to their only daughter, Amanda.
By the end of the 19th century, the Owen’s oldest son transformed the big house in a museum, devoted to the early colonial days and the remembrance of the Scottish people who settled on the lands, being acquired by Jeremiah Mackenzie from the family back in ’92. Since then, he had expanded the place and transformed in one of the best museums about the colonial life in the area, being visited by tourists coming from all over the world.
It was incredible to see the entrance of Fraser’s Ridge, some of the cabins still intact. Many settlers remained in the area far until the beginning of the 20th century, living a very rural and calm life.
As it was expected, some things changed during the last 300 years. The main road was paved and there were some signs, showing where the old mill was and where they would produce the genuine Scottish whisky, deep in the North Carolina mountains.
Toilets were spread around the area, for a matter of propriety and hygiene and she caught a good wi-fi sign, briefly showing that, despite the bucolic look, she was still among civilized people.
“You have been very quiet.” James said, as he found a spot to park in front of the great house, with grey stones and a very white balcony. It was not a question, but a statement.
“Yes.” She answered, even though she didn’t need to. She only felt that… well… she needed to say something, just to know if she could speak properly.
After all, she felt that strange tingling in her bones, the soft drumming behind her ears. The sound of old beings calling for her, demanding her to fulfill her destiny.
Could it be…?
She lost the track of her thoughts, as a group followed a young girl, with bright red hair entering the house. Peggy could hear the soft voice, explaining some architectural characteristics of the turn of the century regarding adaptations made to the great house, as a group of tourists followed her inside the museum.
Without thinking, Peggy followed the girl, intrigued by the hue of red in the guide’s hair, a tone that she had already seem… where… she forced her mind, trying to tiptoe behind the large group, jumping up and down to see… better… where she had seen that same hue?
“What are you doing, Peggs?” James asked behind, with a contained laugh in his voice.
“There is something about that guide…” She started to say, being interrupted by a deep voice coming from their left side.
“Mr. Ransom, I presume?” He paused, looking to Peggy. “And Miss Bedwyn.”
There, standing very tall, with bright red hair turning grey and blue, feline like eyes, stood a man. He had a crooked smile in his face, under the very bushy, red beard.
And that’s when Peggy realized that James, that man and the girl shared the same reddish tone of hair. And the same pair of blue eyes as William Ransom, the earl of Ellesmere.
He had spent some days with the Fraser’s. William realized he really enjoyed staying with what could only be described as his family. He enjoyed playing with Jemmy, the son of Brianna and Roger. He had the same eyes as his and it was nerve wracking to realize that nearly all the offspring from the Fraser clan shared the same basic characteristics: the bright red hair, the high stature, the feline like eyes, with the deep blue irises.
As he swam with his young nephew (such a weird thing to think) and niece (a bright young girl with very dark hair) in the stream crossing the property, William could only think on how life could have been different if he had inherited the same red hair.
It would be harder to explain why the only son of the late earl, whose family had never shown a sign of a copperish tone, had acquired such a bright hue of red hair. He scratched his cheek, feeling the beard trying to grow, thinking on how it was a gift from…well… fate or God… depending of your choosing… that only his beard, always shaved sharply, showed who was his real father.
He would spend hours with Mother Claire, walking with her in her little garden, seeing her with hands deep in the soil, tending and caring for her plants, that she treated almost as gently as her patients. He would also see her work in the clinic, taking notes for her as she worked, filling the role of Brianna while the woman took care of her children and Fanny, now a bright and vivid thing, that flourished in the nature.
However, he knew he had to follow his journey. He had delayed for too long his return to Savannah, where he would meet General Howe. He had acquired some information about the movements of the Continental army and it seemed they were willing to take back Savannah from the hands of the British.
The French had already reached Tybee Island, with more than thirty warships and the troops of d’Estaing would arrive very soon. Probably they could have already arrived, considering the time he took to leave New York and the small vacation in Fraser’s Ridge.
God, the General would devour him.
“Are ye well, lad?” Asked the guttural voice of James Fraser behind him.
Despite the fact that they had a nice conversation before William leaving the colonies to England, the earl still felt weird while talking to the man he discovered to be his father. He remembered James as Mac, the groom in his grandfather estate, who would spend hours with him, teaching a little boy how to take care properly of those wonderful beasts that he learned to love so tenderly.
“Yes. I think that I delayed far too much my mission. The General will not be happy.” William answered, turning to his father.
No, he was not his father. He was Mac, his friend. Mac, the groom. But John Grey was his true father, the man that raised him and cared for him when he was sick or sad. Who had held him on those terrible nights after the death of Mother Isobel. Who had taught him how to play chess.
James Fraser was as tall as William was, built in the same frame. The old age had not worn him down, but transformed him in something else, with the grey hair showing over his red locks and the wrinkles around his very blue eyes and forehead, donning him an air of wisdom that, certainly, was not something he had in his youth.
And right now, he was frowning to his son.
“Ye can leave the army, William.” Jamie said softly, placing a hand over his son’s shoulder. “Ye can go back to England and take care of the duties in your land.”
The first night he found William sitting in his kitchen, slurping a broth made by Claire soundly, James knew something was amiss. After talking to his wife, he was certain of two things: the Fraser’s were unlucky enough to attract a hoard of time travelers to their lives. And lucky enough to find true love with them as well.
“I have no reason to go back to England. You know that.” William answered, feeling the so familiar tightness in his throat. Would this ever go away?
Jamie remembered the numbness after Claire went away. How he felt lost and dead inside. It took years for him to live as normally as he could. And when he saw Claire in his print shop, looking as beautiful as the last time he had seen her… he realized… that his heart restarted its beating only on that moment.
“Ye ken Bree said she would try to find your wife. In the future. She will go back through the stones.” He whispered, softly, as the wind blew around them.
They have discussed that, during the last days he spent with the Fraser’s. Mother Claire had shared her own secrets with him and he felt, at the same time, relieved and distressed. It was good to know that Peggy was not alone in this crazy story and others shared the same experiences. However, to finally be sure he misjudged her truthiness for hallucinations… He couldn’t be more ashamed of himself.
“It’s dangerous for her to jump back through the stones. Mother Claire…”
“Dangerous is going to war, lad. General Lincoln is gathering more than 500 Continental troops. Bree said that although the British win this time, this is going to be one of the deadliest battles during the war… Please, William…”
But it was too late. Jemmy came bringing William’s horse and the talk had to be interrupted. The earl only had enough time to have a last look behind his back, before he took the trail to Savannah.
How could he not notice the similarity?
That was all Peggy could think, as she stood by the window, watching Jamie turn yellowish pages with utmost care, using latex gloves. Sitting in front of him, handling the documents he was showing to her friend, was Mr. Mackenzie, with his very red hair and bright blue eyes.
How could this be possible?
James and William had the same features because, after all, Jamie was his descendant. It was incredible to think that, even after all those years, the gene for the auburn hair was still very present and being carried strongly through each generation.
But… Mr. Mackenzie, from the Mackenzie’s of North Carolina… How he could share those genes?
“Mr. Mackenzie…” Peggy said, catching the attention of the middle-aged man. “Have you ever lived anywhere else than North Carolina?”
He smiled, taking of the glasses siting on the bridge of his nose.
“Actually, I lived for two years in Scotland, back in the 70’s.”
“Oh! Really?” She said, walking towards the table, her finger brushing gently over the wood. “Do you have family there?”
Maybe that was it. James had many cousins in the Scottish border.
“My father was from Scotland. He lived for many years in Inverness before he went to North Carolina to meet my mother.” He paused for a moment, seeing that Peggy still waited for more answers. “Unfortunately, my father lost his own parents in a young age and only had an uncle, who took care of him until adulthood. No other family members.”
Jamie had taken away his eyes from his papers, his forehead frowned over his reading glasses.
“Inverness?” He asked, taking the spectacles and placing them over the table. “I’ve been there earlier this year. Probably you don’t remember, but I believe that Mrs. Buchan has been living in the same house for over 50 years. Have you ever met her? Fiona, it’s her name.”
Mr. Mackenzie seemed bewildered, watching the words leave James mouth. At the same time, he seemed relieved, as a young woman, with bright red hair opened the door and called:
“Yes, Bree?” He answered, turning to the girl, who couldn’t be older than 18 years of age, the long hair going straight to her waist. “Oh, I’m sorry… This is Mr. Ransom and Miss Bedwyn, directly from London, England.”
The girl glanced to the Brits side by side surprised, not expecting to see them in her father’s study. She shook her head, maybe trying to take a doubt from her mind and focus on a more pressing business.
“Oh, hi.” She decided to say to them, before turning to her father. “Dad, the group is making many questions regarding the British troops during the campaigns in Philadelphia. You know how I suck in this part.”
“Fortunately, for you, Mr. Ransom here is a historian, specialized in British history.” He said, turning to James with a warm smile. “Mr. Ransom, do you mind taking some doubts of our guided tour guests?”
“Not at all, Mr. Mackenzie.” Answered James, getting up and walking towards the red-haired girl waiting by the door. “It would be a pleasure.”
He quickly followed the girl, leaving Peggy and Mr. Mackenzie together in the office. A strange silence took hold of them, as Margareth kept playing with her nails in the tabletop and the man kept staring at her, with those very bright blue eyes.
“Have you given up of your questioning, Miss Bedwyn?” He said, smiling at her with those very white teeth.
“I had no intention of doing so. I’m sorry.” She answered, blushing slightly over her makeup. “This was incredibly rude of me.”
“Oh, no, Miss Bedwyn, don’t you apologize to me.” He dismissed her with a motion of his hand. “I was expecting you to have questions. Surely, many are over your mind right now. I bet you have noticed how similar I, Bree and Mr. Ransom look like. How amazing was to know that William Ransom’s letter survived in a museum for so many years before being revealed to his descendent. How wonderful was to feel the stones calling you, once again.”
She was frozen, staring at the middle-aged man by her side, a crooked grin in his face.
“Mr. Mackenzie…” She started to say, but was interrupted by the man.
“Please, call me Jemmy.” He smiled tenderly. “And I think we should have a small talk before your friend is back, Miss Bedwyn. Or should I start to call you Lady Ellesmere?”
Claire Fraser was sitting in the porch, feeling the sun in her skin, while holding tightly to a letter. She didn’t dare look at it, as her heart kept beating in a stranger manner every time she glanced at the recipient.
How unusual was that William fell in love for a traveler. Just like Jamie did, so many years ago. A girl who came from a distant future, from a time and a place so different from her own. When Claire travelled to the past, she was a war veteran, a woman of 27 years old, a nurse and a wife.
Margareth Bedwyn, born in a golden crib and terrified by the vicious media of the time, ran away, unprepared and completely… vulnerable. A twenty-year old, recently out of school. Even so, she was lucky enough to lay in William’s arms, an honorable and kind man, raised by a true gentleman and whose genes were the same as the ones from a very loyal and noble warrior.
“Sassenach.” Said Jamie by her side, his strong and warm hands laying over her shoulders. “Ye are worried, mo chride. And I think I ken with what.”
“William.” She whispered, looking at the words written in the letter. The name of Margareth Bedwyn was there in a beautiful handwriting and the smudges of ink showed to the smart doctor that the letter was written in a hurry, the decision made in a heartbeat. “He wrote a letter to her.”
“To his lass?” Jamie asked, taking the letter from her numb hands and watching the sigil of the Earl of Ellesmere pressed in it. “I thought he had given up looking for her… He said he wouldn’y let Bree go through the stones to find her…”
“No… I… Jamie…” Claire fought with the words in her throat. “He gave me this to keep it safe. He asked me to keep it safe with the letters we wrote to Bree in the future. To reach Margareth…A last attempt to say he is sorry.”
She paused, looking at her husband’s beautiful blue eyes, the color of the sky right above her, shinning still with the colors of summer.
“I fear for him, Jamie. This battle… the man lost… He is broken, as you were in Culloden. It was a miracle you survived that battle. And… If he goes there...” Her voice broke and she felt tears in her eyes, tears she was not expecting.
“Much, mo muirninn, much…” He whispered in her hair, as he took his wife in his arms, comforting her as he had been doing for the last twenty years. “I know. I know. I will talk to Roger Mac and by the afternoon we will leave to get William back and take Bree to the stones on the way. We will get that lass to him, right?”
She just sniffed, feeling his warmth running in her skin, glad she travelled one more time to be with her one true love.
Chapter 27: Love as a calling
Peggy felt chills all over her body, as she listened to her tittle being said one more time. Dear God, it has been… 200 years since the last time she heard it. How… How could that man know who she was? Or who she was supposed to be?
“How?” She whispered, eyes fixed in the cheerful man in front of her.
He didn’t seem worried or surprised. Jemmy Mackenzie was relaxed as he would have been in a barbecue in his own garden, watching the children play as he fried some burgers and waited for the 4th of July fireworks.
“Well, Lady Ellesmere. We are old acquaintances.”
Old indeed… That only meant… He was a traveler, as she were. Peggy forced her mind, trying to remember the face of all those men she met during her London Season, back in 1779. The servants in the houses, the guests in Ellesmere Park… None fitted the image of the man in front of her.
What the hell?
“Oh no, milady. We are still to meet, don’t you worry.” He smiled, noticing her surprise. “For now, I think I must escort you to your carriage.”
She raised her chin, like Nana Clarice taught her so many years ago. That man thought he would just kick her out of his property before she got all the answers she needed? Well, then, he never met a Bedwyn in his life.
Or better yet: a Ransom.
“Now, sir, if you think I will leave this place before you answer ALL my questions, you’re entirely mistaken. And don’t you think you can blackmail me by telling this little innuendo to my friend. He knows. Eve-ry-thing.” She said, walking slowly to the red-haired gentleman, a finger pointed to his face, like her grandmother would do with Lord Sterling when he got a little handsy next to her.
“I’m not trying to kick you out, milady.” He smiled, in that warm way that unnerved her. “I’m here barely to take you back to him. Through the stone. As was requested to me.”
She lost her breath, feeling her knees lose the ability to keep her straight. Hands were quickly over her, aiding her to a chair, her heartbeat thundering in her brain. She looked to Jeremiah Mackenzie, holding her with the most sincere pair of blue eyes, happiness stamped in his face.
“Are you?” She whispered and, realizing that her phrase didn’t make any sense, continued. “Are you going to take me to him?”
“Well, yes.” He answered, frowning his brows. “Do you still need a confirmation, don’t you?”
She shook her head, while he got up and roamed to his desk. After searching for a moment, among the different frames in line, he took one, walking towards her once again, kneeling in front of her.
“Here it is.” Said Jemmy, showing the small painting he had in his hand. It showed an old gentleman, with fiery red hair appearing among the grey and white strands, fierce and cat like blue eyes staring at her, a crooked smile in his face, almost like he was plotting something devilish amusing.
By his side, an old lady, with golden hair stared at him with love, a hand over his waist in protection. In front of her, a red-haired woman, with the same blue eyes, sat side by side with a dark-haired man, with the most green eyes Peggy has ever seen.
And right there, a little boy of eleven or twelve: Jeremiah Mackenzie, the same man standing by her side far in the 21st century, sporting a crooked smile and her husband eyes.
“Mr. Mackenzie, I assure I’m a very good historian, but your visitors think I’m an oracle…” Started to say Jamie from the door, pausing surprise to see Peggy and Jemmy so close together. He only felt the relieve washing through his veins as his friend raised her head, watching him in the eyes with… hope.
“Glad you’ve come back to us, Mr. Ransom. We don’t have time to waste and many things are still left unanswered.” The man said, patting Peggy in the hand. “Follow me, please.”
And with a swift movement, the man got up, opening the door and screaming to Bree that he would be back in some hours. He didn’t look back to see if his guests were following him, walking with abandon towards the front door.
Peggy and Jamie stared at each other for what seemed a long time, before Jamie walking to her and asking, in a low voice:
“Peggs, what is happening?”
She moved her eyes to his, drowning on those blue irises, feeling a joy she though she would never feel ever again. She would be staring those similar blue eyes in some minutes, in the right time and place.
And if everything went right, she would never cease to look at it.
“I’m going back home. To William, Jamie. To my husband.” She smiled, getting up and grabbing his hand, walking towards Jemmy in the front porch. “Finally.”
He had dreamt of her.
William could taste her in his lips, sweet as strawberries, his hands roaming her soft and pale skin. As he approached the soft curve of her breasts, she trembled with desire. He remembered the candlelight over her brown hair, brown like chocolate or molasses from sugar cane.
This though made him want to taste her there, where her other lips met the flesh of her thighs. In his dream, he laid kisses over her body, as she moved towards him, towards his mouth, her chocolate eyes shining with lust.
And when he tasted her… God, it was like heaven.
“Lord Ellesmere…” She sighed over the pillows, her head turning to each side in delirium. “Lord Ellesmere…”
She had never used that name with him. It was too formal. But there was something in the way she pronounced his title… their title… that made him hard and wanting to dive deep inside of her.
“Lord Ellesmere…” She purred again, nudging his shoulder. This could have been what denounced that he was dreaming, after all. In the mix of vivid memories and visions, he had completely forgotten his wife was somewhere far in the future, out of his reach.
And that broke the spell.
Still hard and sensitive due to the bright image of Peggy’s naked body, he opened one eye, seeing the errand boy watching him with a scared look on his face. He could not be over 13 years-old, but that miserable young thing knew what was night-pollution, and God be damned if that boy babbles to the army about his erotic dreams.
“What is it, boy?” He asked, pulling his thin blanket over his legs, covering his shame.
“There is a man that wants to talk to you, milord.”
He looked around and saw the starry night above his head. After leaving Fraser’s Ridge, he had met with some of forces coming from Willmington. Since then, he got used to making camp among the soldiers, hearing their stories about what they expected to happen in Savannah.
Too little, too late. He had information that once was fresh and new. Now, it was very well-known gossip.
William would receive a severe reprimand from his superior, but in the field of espionage, these late news were common. Man would vanish and return many days later. Many would not return at all. Some would be found in a shallow grave hidden somewhere deep in the country. Some would be rewarded by the enemies for their brilliant work.
However, William was an earl, from a very old lineage. He had more right to the throne than the king himself, as he was almost sure his Great Grandmother was a direct descendent of the Plantagenets. The only way he could face martial court was through treason. And that was one thing that General Clinton couldn’t prove.
“Tell the General I will see him first thing in the morning.” He murmured, wanting to go back to his delicious sleep. “We still have some days to get to Savannah. The siege will not change so quickly… D’Estaign is a fool, a man who thought that because he was noble, he would be ready to command. This is will never work out.”
That was the problem with French nobility, William thought. All of them believed the Sun revolved around their precious little heads.
“It is not the General, milord.” The boy gasped, playing with a rag that could have been a hat one day.
That made William turn to the boy, staring him with the most gelid eyes he could think of. He was scary, due to his height and broad shoulders but he never considered himself a man who would make the others tremble with fear. And now…
And now…The boy took a step back, swallowing nervously. There was something in William’s features, now. Something that made those around him fear his power.
Could it be heartbreak?
“Spill it, boy!” He demanded. “Who wants to speak with me so late at night?”
The boy played with the rag, over and over again. That constant wobble made William take that piece of fabric from the boy’s hands in a flash of anger. Dear God, his balls hurt, his heart hurt, his head hurt and he had to still see that little boy playing with that… that garbage.
The child’s lower lip trembled and he could see the tears building up in his eyes. He tried to cover his face with his dirt hands, to cry in peace, ashamed of what was happening to him, when William, guilt-ridden by his own reaction, placed the tatter in the boy’s hands again.
“I’m sorry, boy. Just tell me…” He tried to say, in a gentler voice, sighing deeply. “Who is the gentleman?”
“Your father, milord.”
“This… this is amazing!” Whispered Jamie, walking by their side, as they got deeper in the woods. The morning sun was high in the sky and their goal was to get in the circle as soon as possible. “You’ve been jumping forward and backwards in the timeline since the 80’s, then?”
“Well, yes.” Jemmy said, checking the track. “However, last time I jumped back to the past was nearly 10 years ago. To show my youngest daughter to my mother.”
Margareth couldn’t speak properly. Her legs were trembling and her heart was beating fast in her ears. Jemmy Mackenzie was a traveler like her, born in the 18th century, while his mother was an engineer from Boston, in the 20th century. And he was helping her to get back.
“I hope Margareth will find them well. I imagine you must be very preoccupied with your parents situation during the war…” Jamie said, avoiding a low branch in his way.
“Last time I was with my parents was 1806, Mr. Ransom.”
This sentence made Peggy halt in her high boots, her mind turning in panic.
“Wait. What?” She almost yelled. “Are you saying that I’m going to meet William nearly 30 years after I left?”
Jemmy turned to her, with his bright blue eyes and gentle smile.
“Lady Ellesmere, I assure you, that you will travel back to the right time. Exactly as we planned.” He said, placing a warm hand over her shoulder.
“Are you 100% sure?” She asked, raising one eyebrow in doubt.
“Well… Not 100%... I’m not a specialist. And certainly, time travelling is not a science, per say. But, if we consider that almost everything has been happening as you told me it would, I have 90% of certainty.” He answered, pulling her back to the way, that started to get louder and louder with the sound of the ancient beings calling her to adventure.
“90% is not, nearly, enough.” She replied, making him laugh out loud, a joyful sound that reminded her of William’s laugh.
“It will have to be enough. We are almost there.” He pointed to somewhere in front of them, among the bundle of plants, gathered together searching for sun. “Can you listen?”
“Yes.” Peggy and Jamie answered together, as she felt her heart exploding in her throat.
“Of course, you do.” Whispered Jemmy, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “Our family is in the other side. They are calling us.”
Jamie was very quiet, watching the point covered by ferns and moss ahead of them.
“Peggy told me that the calling of the stones, when I was waiting for her, was almost unbearable.” Jamie paused, feeling the chill wind in the nape of his neck. “For me, is faint. A whisper. A summoning. A request, so gentle…”
Jemmy nodded, as he pulled the ferns from the entrance, a pitch-black hole with an ancient ladder tied together in its side.
“It’s different for me. It’s not something that I can hear… It’s just a feeling. A presence. Like I feel when Mandy is near me…” He thought out loud, checking his pockets for the lantern.
“Do you miss her?” Peggy blurted, making Jemmy raise his head to her and James turn back from his exploration near the edge of the hole. “Mandy, I mean. Your family. Your parents. Grandparents. The settlers.”
“I do. Of course, I do.” The old man paused, rubbing his hand in the full beard. “It was hard to make the decision regarding my return to the future. However, my favorite aunt had some wise words of advice…”
“Don’t you tell me that…” She started to say, but the man raised a finger, interrupting her.
“She said: My dear, some decisions don’t need to be made. They are made for you and that’s wonderful. No one likes the boring certainty of a future decided by yourself.” He shrugged again, turning of the lantern. “So, one day, I just felt a presence. Something I never felt before. And I went to check what it was. And I was married to it for nearly 20 years.”
A strange silence got over them, a question hanging there, that no one wanted to ask.
“She died. Breast cancer, six years ago.” Jemmy answered for them. “And I don’t regret a thing.”
The beauty of the future laid in its unpredictability. The past was said to be written in stone, unchanged and frozen in time. But there she was: Lady Margareth Ransom, nee Bedwyn, going back to the past, expecting to make a future out of it.
And according to that man, Jeremiah Mackenzie, her future was guaranteed. A happy-ending, like in the fairytales.
Tell that to her heart, beating in her chest like an engine inside of a car. Tell that to her knees, trembling under her weight. Tell that to her lungs, suddenly out of breath. Tell that to her mind, that kept thinking of countless theories on how everything could go wrong.
“Are you ready?” James asked by her side.
“I don’t know.” She answered, simply, checking her purse over her shoulder. “I… The logistics…”
“Don’t worry about this. I will handle the repercussions.” He smiled, the same way he always did when they were children. “I will miss you, Peggs.”
“Don’t you there to say goodbye to me, James Ransom!” She announced, making them all laugh, as she placed a foot over the first step downwards the rabbit hole. “I’m expecting a present under the monastery walls this Christmas! And it has your face in it!”
Chapter 28: Love as a compass
Margareth Bedwyn was not the most talented girl Scout in her small group. She barely knew how to make fire and her sense of direction was terrible. This has never been a problem, since she had a lighter with her when needed and a small voice in her phone giving her the directions to the next tube station in London.
However, right now, she was royally fucked.
Everything was going quite well after she woke up in that chilling cave. She couldn’t see a thing over her nose, but, calmly and constantly, she searched in her bag for her lighter, allowing her to see her surroundings, searching for the exit.
And then she dropped the lighter after realizing she was facing a skeleton still wearing his old clothes.
After some fumbling around, Peggy finally managed to get back the lighter, find her way out and pull herself up the hole. She took the compass Jemmy gave to her and tried to follow his directions:
“Keep walking southeast and you will get to the Big House. My granny Claire will help you.”
The problem was: she never knew how to use a compass. And now, Lady Ellesmere found herself walking in circles, deep in the woods of North Carolina. And she was almost sure there were bobcats there.
She could see the sun getting lower and lower in the sky. Although she still had her lighter, Peggy doubted that she would be able to light up a fire. So, she made the worse decision in her life: she decided to follow a track.
Now, it couldn’t be worse than walking aimlessly in the middle of a far-away mountain during the Revolutionary War, could it?
And for a brief moment, that trail was everything she asked for: by the end of it, next to a small shelter, two horses were side by side, munching grass without much worries in the world. Its riders must be near, as they were saddled and ready to go.
She remembered William telling her, once, so many years ago, how horses were trained to always go back to their homes. Certainly, that place where they waited patiently by was not the stable, Peggy thought, as she approached carefully, avoiding being seen in the sunset, using the trees shadows as a disguise.
That place seemed to be a pantry of sorts. She knew that back in the old days, and by old days she meant the present, there were places like that, where the servants would put meat, herbs and other things to hang and dry, being conserved for long periods of time.
If she was right, then, the ridders must have been picking some items for the kitchen, and would be soon outside, ready to go. That thought made her walk faster towards the first animal, a beautiful, dark thing, its hair shining more than even her own hair.
Was she jealous of a horse’s hair?
The quick movements she made near that beautiful beast made it fuss around, neighing loudly and prompting a man to go outside, to see what was bothering his horse.
Peggy locked eyes with the handsome stranger, being able just to realize how green were his eyes, before a sense of preservation took control over her own body and prompted her to run for her life. After all, that 18th century man could only think of one reason for her being there, so near his horse: she was going to steal it.
And he was not wrong.
“JAMIE!” The man shouted, making Peggy run faster, even though she didn’t thought it was possible.
Thank you, good Lord Jesus, that made her go straight to the stones, without having time to change her 21st century clothes for panniers and large skirts. She could run much faster in her flat boots, something she needed very much right now, as she zigzagged through the woods.
“Ifrinn!” She heard someone cursing near her and she tried to prompt her legs to take her away from the grasp of those hands brushing her back.
She was tiny, short legs and all. Her lungs were doing overtime and, still, she could hear them getting closer and closer to her, the heavy sound of their breathing travelling to her ears, the musky scent of sweaty men in her nostrils.
The feeling of the root against her toes was momentary. As soon as she felt it, she also sensed that vertiginous feeling of the earth coming towards her face. She tried to change her way, to turn quickly and find an exit. However, she was only able to flip like a pancake and fall out of breath over the dirt, as a huge man jumped over her.
At first, as her lungs gulped for breath and her vision, that got dark when 200 pounds of muscles dropped over her, returned, the only thing she could see was the eyes. Blue, intense and feline, like…
However, as the man pulled back his face to watch her with more care, she could see the small wrinkles around his eyes and the white hair growing over the bright red.
“A Dhia, lass!” The man said with a low voice, heavy with accent. “What were ye thinking?”
Waiting by a large oak tree, covered by hanging moss, that could almost touch his tricorne was his father. The fire lit by the soldiers, soundly sleeping nearby, was enough to show his features, the light blond hair tied together in a low ponytail in the nape of his neck, his light blue eyes turning a vivid shade of grey.
William knew that every time his father’s eyes changed colors to that nerve wrecking grey, like the clouds over Hellwater, waiting to fall over their heads, was a bad sign.
“Father.” William mumbled, placing himself in front of the older man, opening his legs and placing his arms behind his back, in the military pose he had learned after so many years in the army.
Without saying a word, Lord John Grey threw a letter to his son, that caught it with a quick motion.
Aunt Minnie… Oh, no…
“Now, if you may, William…” Started the man, taking his tricorne from his head. “Explain to me why I had to receive a letter from your aunt, dated from 3 months prior to this day, saying that you got married? Why I had to discover through Dr. Hunter, the doctor working for the rebels we are fighting, that you had come back to the Colonies?”
“Father, I…” How in the hell he would explain all the craziness that happened to him since he departed to England, 6 months ago. “It’s not easy.”
“Clearly it isn’t.” Lord John said, using his hat to point at his son, anger filling his mouth. “I’ve raised you well enough to know that something is amiss. You would never leave your newly- wed bride in England, all by herself, while you risk your life in a war. Why didn’t you sell your patent, William? You’re an earl, for the Lord’s sake! You never needed to be in the army! You have lands to take care of, servants and tenants… And a wife! A wife that could be pregnant by now!”
His father’s words hurt like fire in his soul. Many a night William kept thinking of what he would have done, if he had not scared Peggy away from him. The renovations needed in some of the tenants old houses. A new system of drainage in the fields. His administrator was very interested in a different type of cattle, with softer meat, found in the Highlands. It would increase their revenue in the market.
His mind always drifted to Peggy, as well. After being left alone in Ellesmere Park, he realized how much he wished for a child. A baby to care and to love, with brown eyes and her gentle smile. He knew she could have been pregnant when she vanished through the stones of the old monastery… They have laid together, as husband and wife, many times before that…
She would have started to shown? Would her family take care of her, even though she was unmarried? Or would them cast her away, fearing the shame that would befall the great Bedwyn family?
How she would survive in the streets? With her soft skin and highborn heritage, she didn’t know the basics to survive. To work. She would have to sell her body to feed their child, who would grow up in complete poverty…
“You don’t understand…” William tried to say, feeling the lump on his throat.
“You don’t understand, William Ransom!” His father was very, very angry. “I’ve sent a letter to your official. You’re being dismissed of the army.”
“What?” William whispered, but his father continued the rage.
“I already booked you passage in the Amphion. It leaves Charleston in a week, enough time for you to get your horse and be on time. By the time you arrive in London, you will sell this patent and go back to Ellesmere Park as soon as possible.”
“I will try to come back home for Christmas, depending on the state of war in here and the weather…”
Lord John raised his head to his son, so much taller than him and looked the boy with a quizzical look.
“What do you mean by ‘no’, William?” The man asked, raising one eyebrow.
“I made my decision.” William answered, feeling all the frustration built in his body, from his dreams to the memories his father’s words evoked in him, being lashed out. “As you pointed out, I’m a married man now and soon I could be a father…”
“Could, William? What do you mean…” But he was interrupted by his son’s own anger.
He did not have the strength to keep explaining himself to his family. Mother Claire embraced his tale and gave him support when he was lost. She and Jamie gave him options when he thought his only option was to be by himself.
If he was the same boy that left for London, so many months ago, he would have accepted their offer. He wouldn’t think about Brianna’s safety or her children when she would launch herself into the unknown once again. He would be sitting, patiently, in the big house at Fraser’s Ridge, as the spoiled brat he believed to be, while Peggy would be delivered at his doorstep like a package brought by the royal mail.
No. He made his decision in Fraser’s Ridge. He would not sacrifice his family for a dream that would never transform into reality. Margareth left him and she had her reasons. She was a strong woman with a strong mind of her own and hardly she would simply accept the words of someone saying that he was sorry.
The earl paused for a moment, shacking his head in disbelief. He was actually doing, that, wasn’t he?
“I will go to Savannah and I will continue in this war until the moment that I’m long dead and gone. Margareth is not here anymore. Mother Isobel is not here anymore. And I think that’s the best time for you to leave, as well. Leave and let me be.” He looked one last time to his father’s blue eyes, saying: “I’m sorry.”
Giving no time for his father to move, William turned around and marched towards his cot under the stars.
James Fraser looked at the girl, intrigued. She had huge, chocolate brown eyes, covered by long and luscious lashes. Her long hair was tied in a ponytail, like a man, and she was using pants with boots.
That girl was running away from something.
“Why were ye stealing our horses, lass?” He asked, still over her tiny body, making sure she wouldn’t move or escape.
He was huge. Heavy and enormous over her, the eyes of her husband stamped in that man’s face. She recognized him from the painting in Jeremiah’s office, the painting that proved to her that Jemmy was like her: a time traveler.
He said that the Mackenzie’s and the Ransom’s were relatives and that’s why some of their features were passed on through the centuries. James Fraser’s mother was a Mackenzie through birth and she was one of the owners of those bright, feline like blue eyes that many Fraser’s, Mackenzie’s and Ransom’s to come inherited.
However… Now, feeling that amazing specimen of a man laying on top of her, muscles and all pressing her skin against the dirt… Well, it lit up something very… familiar to her, deep inside in her core.
Maybe was the frame of the shoulders or the astonishing height. Or the way he moved his head… But William couldn’t be only a distant relative of that man.
A nephew, perhaps? A cousin?
She knew that Geneva Dunsany, William’s mother was as English as Peggy herself. In fact, Lady Louisa was very proud of her family’s history, an immaculate account of the most English human beings who ever walked on earth.
They would never allow a Scottish, man or woman, staining the line.
“I’m lost. I… I think I lost the trail to the Ridge and I knew that horses remembered the way home and when I saw the horses I just thought that If I jumped on one of them I would arrive somewhere.” She blurted out, unable to think properly and still pretty scared of the huge man above her.
“The Ridge, hum? You’re not from there, clearly. I know every settler in my land.” He pointed out, arranging himself over her to place her stunned arms under his body, allowing him to seat over her chest and have a nice look in the scared girl.
What Jemmy had said…? His grandmother met James Fraser after going through the stones near Inverness, as Jamie had read in the newspapers during his research about henges. And she returned before Culloden, to raise her child in a safe environment.
“I need to talk to Claire Fraser, milord.” Yes, Peggy, treat this huge man with respect and hopefully he will not eat your head out.
He was arrested, wasn’t he? Jemmy said something about it. That he was arrested for the rebellion and… his grandmother met him back in his printshop, twenty years later.
No, there was something wrong. A man, arrested and locked away in a Scottish prison for more than twenty years would never have the money to buy and run his own printshop.
He must have been released prior to this. Most of the inmates would perform forced labor, many being sent to the British colonies, while others were scattered through estates, working to gain their freedom and something extra, as money or favors.
Maybe, those twenty lost years in Jemmy’s history were the missing piece in her puzzle.
“What ye want with my wife?” He asked, looking behind to the sound of hooves in the dry leaves, as the dark-haired man came back with the animals.
There was no point in lying, after all. She suffered from heart break due to all her lies. This would not happen again.
“Someone told me she could help me find my husband, milord.” She paused, munching her lower lip.
“And how could my wife know how to find your husband?” He grunted, raising one red eyebrow. “Claire is a great healer and a wonderful woman, but I don’t think she acquired the gift of clairvoyance.”
He slowly got up, taking the dirt from his trousers and offering a helping hand to take the girl off the ground.
“And let me tell you something, lass. When a man goes missing, usually he doesn’t want to be found. Go live your life and forget his existence. It’s better.”
He pulled her up and Peggy felt her ankle failing under her. Before she could fall again, loudly, on the ground below, Jamie’s hands were in action, helping her to be straight only in one functioning foot. He was a true gentleman, after all. He may sound scary, and look pretty dauting, but his hands were gentle under her and he seemed concerned for her welfare. This made her look up, stare straight in his eyes and say:
“The thing is, milord, it was me who left. And I travelled 200 years to have him back.” She paused, listening to her frenetic heart in her ears, as James eyes got bigger and bigger in his face. “My name is Margareth Ransom, countess of Ellesmere, and I need your help to get my husband back home.”
Chapter 29: Love as family
She was bruised, tired and dirty, like she fell on mud and rolled over it. Which was not wrong. Her feet, free from her boot, was being graciously held by Doctor Fraser, her golden eyes staring at Peggy with curiosity, as she moved gently every toe, to see if anything was broken.
“You were very lucky to find us, sweetheart.” Whispered the woman, as she took the clean bandages from her daughter’s hands. “We often see bobcats and black bears around here.”
“It was my only option, Doctor Fraser.” Peggy said, feeling her voice break a little. “If I was to go back to England… I… Well, I would be too scared to go along with the plan.”
She stared at the woman, who gently took her cheek in her hand, a gentle smile over her face. The tall red-haired woman, who looked so much like William himself, smiled to her husband and said:
“No need to be scared, Lady Ellesmere. Now you’re safe with us.”
Peggy sighed, gladly.
“No need to call me by the title, really. It is just… weird.” She paused. “I think you should all just call me Peggy.”
The red-haired girl nodded, finishing placing her mother’s items around the study with care.
“Well, then. Peggy, you may call me Bree. I will go to our cabin fetch a new dress for you to wear and we can talk a bit about the future, after. So exciting!” Brianna said, while opening the door and marching outside.
A weird silence creeped inside the room, making Peggy cough with uneasiness. She was in need of a bath and maybe some sleep, as her body ached in all the wrong places. However, some matters needed to be tended. And fast.
“Mr. Fraser, I thank you for… well… finding me. I was completely lost in the woods and I would have never found the way back to the Ridge. And… Doctor Fraser, thank you for tending my wound. I…” She paused, ashamed. “I… It is very rude of me to ask for more things, considering that you have helped me so much… but… If you would be so kind to lend me a horse, so I can be on my way.”
Claire Fraser seemed shocked by the notion and James Fraser finally moved out of his wall, where he stood during all the procedure and walked towards her. God, had she offended then in any way?
“Peggy, you’ve twisted your ankle. This type of injury usually takes one or two weeks to properly heal. I can’t…” Said Claire, frowning her eyebrows. “I can’t let you go like that.”
Peggy sighed, understanding what was the problem.
“I understand, Mrs. Fraser. But I need to go. You know that.”
“Go where, lassie?” Asked James in his heavy accent, his arms crossed in his chest. “Do you even know where William is?”
Dear God, that man was scary…
“I… Before I came, my… I… have found some information. I believe he is in Savannah, right now. Before the assault begin.” Why she kept playing with her coat?
“And you would go to battlefield all by yourself? A woman, injured and scared, in a land she does not know…” Jamie started to say.
“I’ve been to the United States several times when I was younger…” She murmured under her breath, while Jamie kept his speech.
“…in a different time, roaming a battlefield, calling for your husband as if he is going to attend your call and leave everything behind?”
She felt her cheeks flushing.
“He left me a letter! He loves me.” She said, sounding a bit foolish.
“A Dhia, lass! He does love you but will ye be fine with him risking his life, turning his back to the enemy, just so he could hold ye?”
She stood very quiet, finally realizing all the implications of her travel. Peggy spent all this time thinking she would simply march towards the city, shouting William’s name until he appeared in the distance. She didn’t even think about what she was going to do after that. She didn’t even consider that a war was happening right there.
“You’ve told me ye came to Fraser’s Ridge to get the help of my wife.” Jamie said, scanning her with those big blue eyes. “Well, let us help ye, lass.”
Peggy wanted to cry. She could feel the lump in her throat threatening to dissolve in big tears rolling down her face. Tired, dirty and heart-broken, she finally realized she was far away from her family and her best friend, needing to build a new life from the ground, once again.
“Sweetheart…” Whispered Claire by her side, a hand in her hair filled with leaves and dry mud. “You’re not alone.”
And she cried inside Claire Fraser’s arms.
He was too late, William realized as he watched the war vessels firing in the distance, the loud bang of canons over the city walls. He could smell gunpowder from afar, mingled with the sea breeze and the murmur of the waves.
He could hear men screaming in the distance, the loud splashes of bodies collapsing in the raging autumn sea, the crackle of fire on the ship’s wood.
“What will we do, captain… milord?” Asked the soldier on his left, as they watched with horror what Savannah has become.
Give up, William wanted to say. March to the Continental Army waiting behind the city’s walls and surrender.
No, he would not do this to his men. He would think of something.
Slowly, as quietly as a battalion could be, they circled behind the American troops, trying to find a way to enter the city. Every soldier was tense as a violin chord, afraid of being caught by the enemy, being taken as a prisoner and sent to God’s Knows Where. Or worst: to the gallows.
William, as a lord and commander, would be luckier, being treated as a currency to exchange prisoners and favors between the two armies. This could guarantee his body’s integrity, but this also could break his soul.
Not there was anything left to break.
“D’ya think we will be able to find anyone to help us enter the city, milord?” asked the man by his side, making William suddenly realize his presence, under the dome of leaves over their heads. Everything was so quiet and he was so… well… calm.
A man prepared to die would be calm. Of course.
“We will not be able to enter the grounds, soldier. It is too dangerous and there are too many of us to sneak during the late hours… No…” William paused for a moment, calling the lieutenant in charge. He was willing to understand what they would do, seeing the dangerous situation he and his man were facing.
“Listen, I suppose the siege has been going since the middle of the month, based on some… information… I acquired in New York. By what I observed when we arrived, the Continental Army is insisting in a bombardment, using the ships in the harbor. A grave mistake, as our navy is better prepared and we have more vessels available.”
“Milord, certainly, they are only bombarding to distract us. Our troops aren’t in danger, neither our ships. A siege is quite simple… They are only preventing the troops inside the city to get provisions, until they are too hungry to maintain their position…” Started to say the Lieutenant, until William interrupted him with only a simple vexed look.
“I know how a siege works, Lieutenant. And I know d’Estaign…” William paused, motioning to the man keep their pace, quietly, under the woods. “He is not a patient man. If I am right, this siege has been going for far too long. In some days, he will lose his patience and will attack.”
“I see…” The soldier said. “That’s when we attack.”
“Precisely. D’Estaign will launch an assault to the troops they are seeing in front of them. He is too worried about his precious ships, funded by the French King money, and the British troops imprisoned inside Savannah.” William raised his head, focusing his sight to a point far ahead of him, where he swore he had seen a reflection of red shining in front of him.
“He will forget he had been sitting in his noble arse for more than a month, enough time for the British call for arms and prepare an offensive. Right. Behind. His. Back.” He announced, entering a clearing behind the American ranks, where red coats were patiently sitting, waiting for the attack.
They were greeted with smiles and hand-shakes, by the man sitting around fire pits, sharing their bread and talking in low voices, aware of the peril peeking behind the trees around them. That’s why the British army was the best prepared: from their lowest ranks to the highest, every man could predict and anticipate the movements of their enemies.
Simple as that.
Soon he found a spot where they could rest and prepare for the days to come. William arranged a place near an oak covered by Spanish moss, tying his horse in a low branch, so he could munch the grass growing nearby.
“Lord Ellesmere?” A voice came from behind, making him jolt with his hand over his scabbard.
“Yes?” He answered, seeing the small errand boy that had been following the troops since Willmington. He was small and dirty under his big blue eyes. He seemed scared as well, jolting every time he heard a sound coming from the harbor far beyond those trees.
“D’ya think we are going to be alright, milord?” He murmured, staring at his feet. “I’ve heard we are outnumbered, milord.”
William trusted his army and his King. He was, after all the pain and sadness, an earl. His trust could never shake under the calamities. However… However he wished this would be his last battle.
“We will be fine, boy.” Or, at least, he hoped that young boy would. Oh God, please. Just… Take care of this boy.
They were nice people, the Frasers. Claire had helped her go inside the big wooden tin, where she had a nice, warm bath, being very careful to not wet her bandages. Brianna soon appeared once again, with a beautiful woolen navy-blue dress in her arms, too long for her short legs but very complimentary to her white skin.
They’ve talked in hushed tones, as Claire Fraser and Brianna Mackenzie helped her in her new gown and brushed her hair dry. Finally, she was able to sleep for some hours, before Jamie knocked on her door and lifted her in his arms, placing her on the table where all the Fraser’s where having dinner.
It was like a dream, the hugs and the smiles, as she was presented by each and every member of that loud family. Mr. Fraser’s nephew, Ian, with the tattoos in his face and the constant frown was married to a bubbly brown little thing, holding tightly to their newborn son. Mr. Fraser’s son, or so he was considered by the party, Fergus, had so many children that it was truly impossible to count, as they roamed unstoppably around the room, under the vigilant eye of their mother, Marsali.
She has even met little Mandy and… Jemmy. There he was, much younger, not a day over ten years old, watching her with inquisitive eyes. She recognized him easily and smiled as he approached her, curious about the new woman in town. She talked to him with the same respect she gave the middle-aged man she had actually met years later in the future, the man responsible for her coming back home.
And when all left, she took the boy in her arms, allowing him to sit with the grown-ups until he drifted in a heavy sleep.
“I must say, Peggy, I’m very happy you found us. I… am good friends with Lord Ellesmere and I really intended to go through the stones to find you but… well, I was not very willing to leave my children behind. Or my husband. Specially during a war.” Said Brianna by her side, smiling to the boy in her arms.
“Now, Bree. I know what ye intend.” Said Mr. Fraser from the other side of the table, heavy eyes over his daughter. “Ye will stay in Fraser’s Ridge with ye mother while me and Roger Mac go fetch William.”
“Da…” She started to protest, her eyes glistening with an anger Peggy would often see in the red-headed branch of the Ransoms.
“Mr. Fraser is right. I’m very grateful you would sacrifice yourself to take me back to William and I can see how much you care for him… But you have a family to take care of.” Announced Peggy, shaking her head with each word. “I promise I will keep an eye in your father and your husband for you.”
“Now, lass…” Interrupted Jamie, raising his eyebrows. “You will stay in the Ridge as well.”
“What?” Peggy asked, raising her voice a notch. “Mr. Fraser, I believe earlier today we agreed it was too dangerous for me going alone to Savannah… However, I don’t see the problem of me following you in your quest, as I will have the protection of a large party formed by man.”
“That’s no business for women, specially one with a bad ankle, I’ve told ye that.” Jamie said, pointing to Peggy. “No. Ye are going to stay here, safe, healing.”
“Mr. Fraser, I understand what you are saying, but surely…” Peggy tried to say, being interrupted by the man once again.
“No. That’s my final saying.” Jamie announced, drinking his scotch with ease.
“Jamie, maybe if you are worried about her healing, Claire could come with us. She is a doctor and have been to battlefield many times before.” Murmured Roger next to Bree, making Jamie give him a look that could only be described as being able to freeze fire.
Before any of them could say one more thing, Peggy broke the silence.
“You don’t understand, do you?” She asked, turning to Jamie. “Now that I’ve made my decision, I will go find William and take him back to Ellesmere Park. I don’t care if you’re going to try to lock me in your farm. I will go to Savannah, bad ankle and all, because he is my husband and…well…I am his wife.”
She stopped, feeling a bit guilty about her lashing out, her cheeks flushed in a bright tone of pink. James Fraser only shook his head slowly, a small smile showing in the corner of his mouth.
“Are ye travelers all alike, Sassenach? Headstrong and annoying?” He asked to his wife, as she smiled to him with one raised eyebrow.
“Well, Jamie, if you may record correctly, I’ve been following you around for more than 13 years. And your daughter almost moved heaven and earth to find Roger when he was sold to the Mohawks.”
He sighed and stood very quietly for a moment, scratching his head under the mane of red hair. Finally, he gave up.
“That’s it, then.” Jaime announced to the family. “Me, Claire, Roger and Peggy will go fetch William. Now, don’t give me that look Bree, ye know that the Ridge and the children need you. And you, lass…”
He turned to Peggy.
“With your bad ankle, you will delay our trip a few days. You better start praying for we to arrive before the assault begins in Savannah.”
Chapter 30: Love as a quest
She had indeed delayed the party. They have been on the road for a week already and still nowhere near Savannah.
Peggy was used to riding a horse, spending hours over the beast, feeling the sun in her face back in her father’s estate. However, in a dress too long for her, with a bad ankle and an anxious mind, the quest was much harder.
She would be the first to wake in the early morning hours, getting up with some difficulty and freshing herself up behind the woods before the party started the preparations to leave the camp site. Roger or Jamie would place her in the horse, before Claire came to see her wound. It was getting better, despite its healing process was slower than expected, probably due to the fact her feet were mostly down while they marched through North Carolina.
By the end of the day, she was sore, tired and her ankle hurt like the damnation, but she remained quiet and peaceful, avoiding to cause more delays. Peggy knew if she complained, Jamie would stop everything they were doing and find a place to rest until she was better again.
They would find ranks down the road, marching towards battle, while women and children, with wagons filled with their belongings ran from action, afraid of what the siege meant to them. Although Peggy was feeling like shit (and surely looked like so), soldiers would take their tricornes to her, his eyes full of lust.
The first time she saw that, her heart froze in the middle of the beat. And she felt scared.
Roger Mackenzie was a good man, a minister, always humming in a low voice along the way. Peggy soon learned he was a good company for the trip and would be by his side, as they talked about the future. After all, since he and his family returned to Fraser’s Ridge, many things had happened in the world: the Iron Curtain fell, the man sent the first rover to Mars and Britain voted to leave the European Union.
She would spend hours talking about electric cars, the new jets, smartphones and streaming service. Peggy told Claire and Roger, during those long hours up in a horse, about her life in London, her university, her parties and her friends. She told them how she got to the stones and how she met William, making her new friends smile as she told them how the earl was forced to marry her, after that amazing night between the bushes.
Jamie would remain quiet, listening from the distance, probably unable to fully understand what she was telling. For Roger, her amazing tales of technology and innovation were already near a miracle. For James, the highlander straight out of the 18th century, they were something unbelievable. And, so, he remained in silence, only approaching her as the troops passed by them, his voice gently asking about Captain William Ransom, the man who looked so much like the highlander but didn’t share his last name.
This thought creeped around her mind constantly, taking her sleep for many hours, as she started to realize what it really meant.
After many days following this routine, Peggy, one night, found herself alone with Jamie Fraser, side by side around the fire, Roger and Claire deep asleep for what seemed to be hours. The only sound was the crackle of the embers, the sparks dropping into the night.
“You are his father, aren’t you?” She asked before she could think twice. It was not as she had planned and Peggy instantly regretted it.
Jamie didn’t even ask what she was talking about. He only nodded, staring straight into the fire.
“He looks like you.” She whispered, unsure what to say. The only thing she could do was to embrace her body tighter, trying to stop the chills coming over her spine. Jamie saw her getting tinnier and tinnier, avoiding the cold, and took a blanket near him, placing over her shoulders.
“If he looked more like his mother, his life would have been easier.” Jamie whispered, making sure the blanket was covering her entirely.
“But we would not have met, would we?” She asked, staring straight to the older gentleman. “When he was in England… he kept saying that he would sell the estate and get rid of the title… He had discovered about his parentage, am I right?”
“He had. He… he didn’t take it well. William considered it was not right for him to have a title that did not truly belonged to him.”
She nodded. That seemed very much like William.
“Do you care?” Jamie asked, poking the embers, making sparks fly to the sky.
Peggy shook her head, slightly. She loved William not for his title or his belongings. She loved him… because of his kiss. The way he held tightly to her, like he could drown if he would let her go. The way he would smile to her, his eyes shining in a wicked manner. Dear God, she loved him even when she thought he would send her to an asylum in Italy.
She was a fool.
But she was a fool for him.
Jamie nodded, understanding all the things left unsaid by the slight movement of her head.
“I’m glad I can call you daughter, Margareth.” He said, giving a warm smile.
And it left her breathless.
After all, now, she had a family. A huge, loving, family. And everything would be alright.
William has been on the edge since he arrived in the clear next to Savannah. He would wake up and go to sleep surrounded by the eerie sounds of the canons blasting on the city walls. He could feel the earth below his feet tremble, in a strange rhythm that left him uneasy all day.
The soldiers in the camp were not better. When they arrived, they were cheerful and certain that the matter would be resolved in a few days. However, the days passed slowly and they remained waiting for the command, for the moment where they would defend their fellow soldiers closed behind the city walls.
William thought it would be a quick siege, as D’Estaign was not prepared for the powerful British fleet and the resistance of the soldiers inside the town.
He was wrong.
Luke, the errand boy, started to follow William everywhere, making sure everything he needed was in hand. The devotion of the boy was repaid properly, as the earl would make sure the young child would have proper meals and clean clothes to wear. Quickly, using the crafted hands of the surgeon, he managed to adjust a red coat to the boy, making him officially part of the company, for the complete joy of their fellow campers.
“You are cheating, Luke…” Whispered William, as he watched the boy slowly move the bishop away from its dangerous position.
“Milord, I am not.” Answered back the boy, raising his eyes to the earl.
“So, your bishop is taking long walks in the afternoon? Put it back to the right place or I will stop teaching you how to play it.” He motioned to the bishop far away from his resting place. “A soldier must learn to welcome defeat.”
The boy complained under his breath, making William laugh for the first time in weeks. Waiting there, under the stars, while the men talked in low voices or sang merry tunes was not the ideal, for the situation, but it was the best he could hope.
“I’ve seen you found a trainee, Ellesmere.” Said a voice behind is back.
Lieutenant-Colonel John Maitland was behind him, looking with curiosity to the game. He was a middle-aged man, with a receding hair line and a long nose, stuck in a constant hue of red. This was the only color in his face now, as his pale blue eyes seemed almost gray and his face was white as the moon.
“Sir.” Said William, motioning to his side near the fire. Although William was an earl and Maitland was only the eighth son of an earl, he had a higher precedence over the older man. However, Ransom was only a captain, making Maitland outrank him and deserve a little of respect.
“Thank you.” The man said, sitting if some difficulty. The was sweating profusely by the time he reached the ground, making him turn to Luke and ask: “Boy, go fetch me some broth and ale.”
Luke, terrified as he was by the older commanders in the camp, ran like a lightning crossing the sky, his short, skinny legs prompting forward quicker than anyone would think as possible.
“And you’ve been training him right.” Said the gentleman, watching the boy disappear among the troops.
“He is a good kid. Too young to be in the army, but he had no other option. An orphan of mother, a bastard of father.” Said William, taking each and every chess piece with care in his hand.
“The war makes orphans and bastards, with no distinctions, Ellesmere. You should not worry about it.” Said Maitland, adjusting himself over the log they have been using as a chair.
“Yes, sir.” William answered, his eyes lost, fixed in the stone set, his memories fighting their way back to his eyes.
He had been avoiding her presence. He would lock Peggy away deep in his mind every time he would see her eyes reflected in the flames of a fire pit or hear her laugh in the chant of a foreign bird. He would run away of her touch during his long nights and protest to the memory of her fresh smell near a stream.
And now she was back, silently creeping in his mind, under that willow tree in her grandfather garden, dove eyes staring at him, as their lips got closer and closer…
“Ellesmere, are you listening to me?” Said Maitland, appearing to be vexed.
“I’m sorry, sir. I…” He thought about explaining himself but he knew no one would ever understand Peggy. “I beg your pardon. What were you saying?”
The man got closer, looking at his side to see if any of the soldiers were trying to discover their secret conversation.
“D’Estaign wants to launch an assault in two days. Our… friend… told us that he intends to launch it in the early morning. I need your man to be ready to battle before the dawn, October 9th.” Said the man, gazing the fire.
“Yes, sir. I will prepare them.”
The man nodded and got up, with some difficulty, requiring William’s assistance. As he was up, Luke appeared with the bowl of broth and the ale.
“Keep it, boy. You will need it.”
She could hear, now, the blasting of the canons and the shouting of men. Jaime had gone closer to the town, to see what was happening, leaving her, Claire and Roger looking anxious and lost by the trees. Their son-in-law thought it was best for them to leave the main road and stay behind the woods, while they waited.
And wait they did, for long, long hours, Peggy sitting below an oak tree, watching the Spanish moss tremble with the wind, her heart getting tinnier and tinnier in her chest every time she heard a thud in the distance.
“Sassenach!” They heard in the distance and Claire sighed loudly. “Come here!”
Not only Claire went after Jamie’s voice, but Peggy and Roger followed behind. Her ankle was still throbbing a bit, but she managed to walk in a strange motion, wobbling like a duck, making sure to not put much weight in her foot.
“Lord John!” Claire yelled, hugging tenderly the blond man coming side by side with Mr. Fraser. Peggy recognized instantly, as she had seen him many times in one of the corridors in Ellesmere Park: the blond hair and light blue eyes showed her John Grey, William’s father.
If he was there… Then…
She ran, even with her throbbing ankle, making Roger to launch himself over her and grab her by the waist, before she could manage to hold the lord by the shoulders and rock him until he said to her where William was.
“Margareth! Your ankle!” Exclaimed Claire, running back to the girl and lifting the hem of her skirt, watching the red bruise in her foot. That didn’t stop the girl, who kept staring at Lord John, asking:
“Where is he? Where is he?”
The man turned to Jamie and asked, in a low voice:
The gentleman nodded and walked to her. He, then, graciously bowed.
“Lady Ellesmere. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Surely, he had questions, many of them which she could not answer. Not now. Or ever. But he could answer hers.
“William. Where is he? Is he alright?”
He stood in silence, analyzing her with his light blue eyes. For a moment, Peggy felt self- conscious of her appearance and her beautiful navy-blue dress, the same one she spent many days wearing and sleeping with. He probably was thinking William made the wrong decision when he decided to marry a girl so unrefined as she appeared to be.
This mere thought made her pull up her chin and raise one eyebrow, giving the most critical look she could give. Well, she was not going to be judged by a man, not after everything she went through.
“This is not the best place to discuss these matters.” He said in a low voice, the same tone her grandmother taught her to use, but which she never truly learned. “If you may follow me to the camp, we can discuss with ease.”
The horses were brought and Peggy was pulled up to Claire’s saddle, allowing her father-in-law to use her horse. They circled the man, hearing him turn to each of them and describe how he met William in the way to Savannah and tried to convince him to go back to her, in London.
Well, this was awkward.
Unfortunately, he was dismissed by the hurt earl and got delayed by some issues involving the army, his son who failed to show up to his commander on time and the siege taking place nearby. However, after he left town, the troop had raised camp and left, leaving him to search for William’s shadow.
He had arrived four days earlier in Savannah, but Continental troops were surrounding the main roads, after many British soldiers arrived in the last few weeks, preventing more reinforcements. This made John take away his red coat and mingle with the Continental Army, until…
“Dr. Hunter!” Claire greeted, waving for the couple leaving one of the barracks they were approaching.
“Dr. Hunter and Dottie were most generous to welcome me in their camp. Since then, I’ve making excursions around the camp, to find a way to break in the British ranks and search for William.” Announced Lord John, getting of the horse and going towards Peggy to help her. He seemed worried, despite of the tone of his words, and she could see a wrinkle between his two eyebrows.
“Tomorrow, me and Roger can help you, milord.” Said Jamie, after tying his horse to a tree nearby. “Margareth surely will want to come with us too, but she needs to rest and tend to her ankle. Dr. Hunter, if you could be most kind and care for her, while me and my wife settle…”
But Peggy wasn’t paying attention. She kept staring at Lord John’s eyes, grey with worries, the wrinkles in his face showing all the thoughts passing through his mind.
Something was wrong. Incredibly wrong.
Chapter 31: Love as a battle
The silence was unnerving. Peggy stood still, covered in the blankets borrowed by Mrs. Hunter, but the chill of the night entered the tent that Lord John has set for her. She shouldn’t have taken off the woolen socks… But… It was the first night she was sleeping alone, truly alone, able to take of the dress and just stay comfortable in her thin slip.
She turned to the other side, facing the tent wall and sighing. Why it was so… quiet? She grew accustomed to the banging of the cannons far away in the shoreline and the shout of sailors. She tried to forget them, as she talked to Mrs. Hunter, in low voices, while the man started to set the tents and prepare for lunch.
It made her all fuzzy and warm, seeing such love and care. Dottie had said that Dr. Hunter had asked her to stay in New York, while he was summoned to Savannah, after many days of siege. However, she would not have it. He was her husband and she would go wherever he went. Now, she would divide her attention between her infant daughter and the dying man that came all the time near the Hunters camp.
To aid Dottie and Mrs. Fraser, who decided to lend a helping hand treating the injured, Peggy took care of the baby, while Jamie, Roger and Lord John roamed behind the ranks, seeking her husband.
She tried to convince the man of allowing her company in their quest, wanting to follow them behind the woods. She had, however, no chance near the highlander and the English lord together. She accepted her defeat the best she could, happy she was, at least, near William.
When the sun started to set in the sky and the sound of the canons started to fade in night, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Mackenzie and Lord John came back, empty handed and with worried eyes. With Minnie in her arms, Peggy went after them, asking too many questions, none of which were answered.
“Dinna fash yourself, lass.” Said Jamie near the fire, giving a gentle kiss in Claire’s forehead. “We will find the lad.”
There was something wrong… In their eyes. And as the sound of the battle died, for the first time in hours and the night grew darker and darker around them, Lord John’s eyes also transformed into a very beautiful shade of grey, like a storm coming to touch the earth.
Nonsense, she thought to herself, turning to the other side and regretting instantly. The cover had lifted an inch, making her foot feel the night air.
She needed heat. That was what she needed. A nice and warm fire would help her sleep, finally. And everything would be well.
So, gathering the blankets around her, she got up, feeling the chilling soil underneath her feet. Quietly, she put her head outside the tent, looking to one side and then to the other. No one was there, tending the fire, a dying ember.
Quickly, she ran to it, poking it with care and placing some branches around it, like she had seen Mrs. Fraser doing. Soon, with the right stimulus, the fire would begin to grow again, warming her from head to toe.
She sighed, in content, reaching to the flames, heating her numb hands, gladly. She did the same thing for her feet and it felt like heaven. God, she would give everything for an electric heater.
Or a feathered coat. They were nice, as well.
With her mind drifting to warm things she barely noticed the heavy sleep covering her, like a heavy blanket. She could only dream of voices, tender and sweet in her ear and the scent of William in her nose. She tossed and turned in the warmth, trying to catch her husband, who kept walking away from her in her vivid dream, not hearing her shouting his name out loud.
She woke up with the sound of the drums, tired and restless. She blinked to the fire, now dying in the early morning hours, confused. Peggy tried to close her eyes one more time, sighing in search of the sweet surrender once again, but her ears kept hearing the drums and the quiet conversation behind her:
“We have to go after him.”
“In the middle of a battle, milord? The lad will need all his attention to avoiding imminent death.”
The words were followed by the thunderous clash of swords and the shout of men coming from behind the woods. This made Peggy jolt awake, her eyes lost in the horizon, as she fumbled from the mass of blankets to stay upright.
“Lass…” Jamie said, trying to place the quilts over her shoulders, but she didn’t care. Peggy only turned around and asked:
“It’s a battle, isn’t it?” She paused, watching straight to her husband’s fathers in front of her. “And he is there, isn’t he?”
The night was still dark and fog took the surroundings. Slowly, William and his men followed the Continental army, marching towards Spring Hill, with no success. The army, almost built by men that were not from the region, failed to recognize the area and got lost in the mist, wandering to the swamps most of the time.
The men wanted to laugh, but they waited. And waited. Until the sun was almost coming from its sleep, tinting the earth of shades of pink and red. Then, he heard: the beating of the drums and the clear sound of the trumpets, loud in the dawn, calling for arms and inciting the men to fight.
“Milord!” Screamed Luke from behind the ranks, colliding with the soldiers, pushing his way towards the earl. He was dressed in his bright red regiment coat and had found a tricorne, too big to his head, that kept sliding on the sides and covering his eyes. He should be in the camp… “Milord!”
“Luke!” William shouted, turning his horse to the boy, looking behind the shoulder to see if the battle had begun. He needed to think fast. They have been located by the Continental army. He could see the commander, relocating the troops, to protect the flanks they would attack. They had lost their advantage.
They were doomed.
“Go away, Luke! I will deal with you latter!” William screamed, kicking his horse in a stampede, raising his sword over his head and shouting: “Men! Attack!”
The men ran towards the American troops that, despite being warned by their presence, was fighting the British in two sides, too many numbers compared to their small numbers. The clinging of sword against sword and the shouting of the guns could be heard all around William, as he and his horse ran through the field, eyes open wide to see what should he do: charge ahead? Retreat?
He saw the soldier swinging the sword too late. William managed to use his own sword to turn the blade and he only received the flat part of the sword in his chest. However, the horse got scared and reared, making William fall on the ground ungracefully.
The soldier was not satisfied. He kept swinging his sword to William, laying in the ground, protecting every movement with his own blade. By the time the man was close enough, he kicked him in the knee, making him fall on the ground. Quickly, the earl pushed his sword through the soldier’s stomach, taking it back in one motion and not bothering to look at the dying man in his feet.
His horse was nowhere to be found and he was now among the soldiers, fixed in the earth with his heart thumping loudly in his ears, sweat running through his face. He saw the man coming from behind and he swung his sword to defend himself, the loud metal clash thundering in his hands.
He managed to defend most of the attacks, but his left side hurt from the fall, the ribs complaining more and more, every time he turned his body. He curled to his side, when the pain got sharp against his lungs and the soldier took advantage of it, poking his shoulder with the sword, blood dripping in front of his bright red jacket.
The man kept circling each other, waiting for the right moment to attack when the earl heard, far away in the distance:
He heard her.
He swore to God that he heard her voice, clear as day, far away in the field. Calling him to her, at last. The pain in his ribs felt like nothing right now, as he looked around him, into the fighting crowd and shouted:
The soldier jumped over him as he screamed her name and William took a step back. He had only one thing in mind, as his hands fought to keep control of the blade, fighting the man with an aching shoulder and what appeared to be broken ribs: his wife. The chanting of the drums were a mere whisper in his ears, as he tried to focus his thundering heart in the battle, eyes fixed in the flashing of swords, ignoring the blue coats moving back in their positions, some with hurry, some with bravery.
William slashed his sword through the soldier’s belly, making the man drop hot and heavy on the soil, staining the dirt with dark blood. That’s when he heard again, the voice, her voice, coming closer to him, making him finally drop the blade on the ground, as his fingers got numb.
He watched the surroundings, as some men still confronted each other, while others celebrated with their fellow soldiers in red coats and the blue jackets ran towards safer grounds. Man were still dying around him, being forgotten by their mates, agonizing with open wounds or broken parts of the body.
Oh, God. Peggy. It was dangerous for her to be in those ground. Man would go insane with the smell of blood and sweat, attacking everything that moves, even a fine young lady. Or… maybe he was hallucinating. He gingerly touched his shoulder, numb due to the loss of blood and thought it was a good option, until he heard again, closer:
It was definitely her and his heart filled with joy. One foot after the other, he kept his eyes fixed on the spot where he thought the voice was coming and marched… No… Not march… He ran in that direction.
She had forgotten the chilly morning around her, making her nipples hard under her thin shift and the goosebumps appear in her skin. She could only hear the battle sounds behind the woods and the thundering of her heart.
He was there. William. Her husband. Their son. And they were doing exactly what to help?
She was walking. She could feel the moist earth between her toes each step she took towards the horizon. At first, she was insecure. The sounds on the beyond scared her, so, so loud. But they were calling her and her small steps became larger ones, as she moved toward him, finally.
“Where do you think you are going?”
She didn’t bother to answer her father-in-law. She kept walking, no, she was running, her feet sinking in the morning dew, her hair falling behind her back, heavy and luscious, each movement making the small ribbon that tied everything together slip a bit more downwards.
She heard the voices calling her, but she didn’t care, did she? He was there, finally there, in the same time and place as she and she would have to wait? Wait for those silly man finish their war games and being content in killing families and breaking hearts?
No, sir. She feared no men. She feared no sword, cannon or gun pressed in her face. She travelled through magic stones to find true love, not once, but twice. She survived the complete shame she brought to her family and upon herself. She survived those long summer days alone in London, her heart too broken to… live.
She didn’t fear because she had nothing to lose, simple as that.
“Ye crazy, lass? Men are fighting behind those hills!” She heard Jamie screaming, but she kept running.
She ran, ran for what seemed like hours but she knew that were only a few minutes. Her lungs hurt from the chilling morning air and she knew that her ankle, still recovering, was throbbing under her weight, demanding to be released from that suffering.
No. She kept running, despite the early morning, the slippery grass, the freezing air and the ache in her body. She would run barefoot and in a slip too long for her.
Peggy froze as she reached the outskirts of the battle, the smell of gunpowder stuck in her nose, the blasting of the canons stronger than ever. The red coats outnumbered the blue ones and she knew that, probably, William would be ok.
If he was lucky.
Now, it was only a matter of finding him here.
“Don’t ye think about it, lassie…” She heard Jamie say behind her, placing a warm hand over her shoulder. “Ye will go back with me and Lord John, put some clothes and wait until we find ye your lad, do ye hear me?”
She turned to him, raising her eyebrows in a fluid motion.
And she ran towards the battle, disarmed and without armor, straight to the enraged men trying to kill each other. As she darted through the field, she took as most air she could inside her lungs and screamed:
She was getting near the ranks, now, blood mixed with mud tainting her calves as she ran and screamed her husband’s name like a banshee. She jumped over corpses and canons left behind, until Jamie caught her in his arms.
“Dammit, lassie, ye’re going to make me deaf!”
She was raised over his shoulders, while he held his sword in one of his hands. Lord John was behind him, facing the other side, taking his sword of the scabbard as the fighting man began to notice their presence: the red-haired giant, the blond nobleman and the half-naked woman, screaming:
“Dear God, Margareth, you’re making everyone look at...” John began to complain, being interrupted by the sound of the drums and the yell of trumpets, as commanders called their men to retreat.
The fight couldn’t have last more than one hour. Now, slowly, the blue coats, outnumbered by the British and defeated in their siege, were slowly going backwards. The men, who stared at them first wanting to fight, now avoided their look, afraid to being caught in an unfair game just before they could go back to their camp and lick their wounds.
Slowly, Jamie placed Peggy on the ground, thinking she was calmer, considering she had stopped screaming in his ear.
Well, he was wrong.
As the moment her feet touched the earth once again, Peggy started to run towards the heat of the battle, screaming:
Chapter 32: Love as courage
She felt her throat dry, as she looked around the field, man leaving, some still fighting by the corners, others dying. The smell would always be fresh in her nostrils, the blood over the mud, the powder still floating on the air.
She suddenly realized where she was and how danger it was to be there. Peggy looked down, to her legs covered in dirt and blood, her toes sinking in the soil. She saw a movement by her side, but it was only the wind over a letter, left and forgotten in the field.
“We have to go.” Lord John whispered next to her, out of breath. “The continental army is retreating and soon there will only be the dead and dying. And the thieves, searching for gold and money in the corpses. It is not safe.”
Peggy felt the hand in her arm and the arm under her legs, motioning her body to his embrace.
“No!” She screamed, taking the hands away from her, finally able to take a step further. The numbness that got over her, the sheer panic of staying in the middle of a dying battle was fading and she looked around. “We have to search for him.”
“Lass… Listen to your father-in-law.” Jamie said, sword still in hand, en guard, afraid of the soldiers passing by them, the horses running lose, the cannons left alone, filled with gunpowder.
“We can’t give up! Not now!” She screeched, taking another step away from them. “We ran all the way… To be here. To find him.”
She tried to walk faster, but her hurt ankle gave in and Peggy fell on the mud. She could feel the tears trying to fall down her cheeks, her throat tight with despair. Lord John was by her side, helping her to get up, but quickly she took his hands out of her.
“No!” She was up again, the mud staining the bottom half of her shift and her hands. “I don’t need your help. Or Jamie’s help.”
She tried to walk again, with a weird motion, allowing her ankle more freedom. Surely, if her English professor could see her wobbling through the dirt, he would call her Quasimodo.
“NO!” She turned around, pointing to the pair standing still some steps behind. “I’m tired of this shit! Do you know how long I’ve waited for this moment? How much I’ve missed him?”
They stared her in a quiet silent and only their eyes showed how they understood her heartbreak.
“I…I will not surrender. I will not give up.” She pointed to the men vanishing in the morning light. “If I have to turn each and every corpse to find William, I will. If I have to take a sword to fight for him, I will. If I have to break him out of jail, I will.”
Suddenly, that was too much for her.
“William!” She tried to scream, seeing herself out of breath.
Her voice was broken, leaving her body in big gulps, followed by the stream of tears falling down her face. She saw Lord John and Jamie moving towards her by the corner of her eye… However, she was so…angry!
“Stay there!” She whimpered, like a dying pup. “I do not need your compassion either.”
She paused for a moment, watching the mess she was in, embracing her shacking body against the morning wind.
That’s when she heard. Her name, being shout in the distance.
He was there. He was indeed there, somewhere among those ruins.
“WILLIAAAAM!” She shouted, restarting her frenetic run, her toes clinging in the hem of her shift, making her fall on the mud and get up again, powered by the simple words that the wind, coming from the western sky, brought to her.
And there he was, coming from an overturned wagon in a ditch, his red jacket bright as the sun, his boots dirty from the mud in the field, his hair lose over his shoulders. He never looked so handsome, making her heart beat so loudly against her chest she thought she would faint.
Peggy started to limp towards him, her legs failing to work properly, shaking under the weight of her body. William, who was frozen, watching her with those big bright blue eyes,, started to ran towards her, in a gracious motion of limbs, his arms embracing her and shoving her face against a very warm and… moist…torso.
God. He was there. He was real.
“Tell me I’m not dead, Margareth.” How sweet was the sound of William’s voice. “Tell me you’ve, indeed, come back to me.”
She found herself losing her words, her mouth opening and closing without any sound coming from it. How tall he was… She had forgotten that, as she embraced his waist, holding tightly to him, to be assured he was really there.
“Tell me, Margareth. I only need this, right now.”
Out of breath, she kept all her attention to those lovely eyes and said:
“Yes. I’m here, Will. And I will never leave again.”
He kissed her, as the words left her pink lips. Oh, God, how he missed that, the sweet flavor of her tongue, the faint sigh coming from her throat, their mouths so close together, almost as he was trying to merge into her. Peggy was alive and bubbly under his digits, her hands curling in his hair, like she would always do during their intimate moments.
They stop their kiss as Peggy’s tears gave it a salt taste. William pulled her into his arms, murmuring soft things in her ear. She was there, her head buried in his chest, tears rolling down her soft pink cheeks. He gingerly touched her hair, feeling the warmth coming from the curls. He could feel the tears leaving his own eyes, the memory of her slender body, dressed only in a thin shift appearing in front of him, as he got up from the ditch.
She looked like a nymph, her legs dirty with mud, the shift embracing tightly to her body, as the wind blew, making the mass of brown hair float around her. He could see the relief and the terror in her eyes, as she limped to him, arms raised asking for his own.
“Margareth, are you hurt, darling?” He asked, making her take her face from his chest. Imprinted in her soft skin, he could see his own blood. Shit.
“No, it’s my ankle. It will be alright, I just… William! You’re bleeding!” She shouted, looking at the stain in front of her eyes, which gave a darker shade of red to the jacket. “Oh, God! Jamie! Lord John!”
Only when she screamed for them, that William noticed the men, looking disheveled and worried to the embraced couple. Soon, his father… well… the two of them, were taking of the fabric from the wound and looking it.
“It doesn’t look bad. It is quite a big wound, but the blood is not squishing from it.” Said Lord John, tying a handkerchief over the limb.
“Lucky for ye, my wife is waiting by the camp to treat any wounds, lad.” Said Jamie, watching his surroundings. “We should walk fast. Soon the Continental army will be here looking for their dead and we don’t need to rescue ye from jail.”
William felt relief for the first time in the day. Holding Peggy’s hand, he nodded and started to walk, just to halt, remembering her injure. Without thinking twice, he pulled her to his arms.
“No! William!” She complained, looking at him with a furrowed brow. “Your shoulder!”
“Your ankle!” He answered back. “You can’t walk like that, limping so heavily. No, milady, I will hold you myself.”
“Maybe we can find another solution.” Said Jamie, motioning towards a forgotten horse, munching grass by the outskirts of the field. It took him a while to convince the animal to come with him, but as he succeeded, William pushed himself up, with the help of his fathers, taking his wife into his arms.
They rode in a gentle silence, Peggy’s head comfortably resting in his good shoulder, her body warm and soft in front of his, her round ass adjusted against his thighs, making him hard and greedy.
Lord, after he was stitched, he would take her under his body and hear her sigh with pleasure one more time…
No. Not one more time.
He would hear that forever now.
William sighed, joyfully, holding her tightly to his body, as the horse marched to a small camp. Jamie had given him his plaid to put over his shoulders, protecting him from the cold morning air. He used that to cover Peggy as well, protecting his wife the way he should have done before.
Before she left.
He looked to his side, where Jamie and John were discussing in a low voice. They were still tense, afraid of being caught by both the British and the continental army.
“Thank you.” Said William in a low voice, to not startle Peggy, who was warm and comfortable in his arms. “Both of you. You found her and protected her and I… I… Thank you.”
Jamie smiled with his blue eyes, the eyes they shared and, for the first time in many days, William smiled to the man he was growing used to call father.
“You should thank her, William. She was the one who found me in Fraser’s Ridge, who insisted to join me and Roger in our search for you.”
John laughed, in the way he would usually do, his grey eyes shining under the morning sun.
“Insisted is too gentle for the way she ran barefoot, only with her shift protecting her skin, towards a battle to find you, my boy.” They could hear the chatter of people, as they approached a clearing. “She is very brave and I’m very proud of calling her my daughter.”
William could feel the tears building up in his eyes. For the first time in twenty years, he was finally in peace. He had found his courage and his tenderness. He was fair and just, as he was proud and a bit stubborn. But he wasn’t the spoiled brat who came to the colony with a broken heart and a crown in his head.
He was only William Ransom, earl of Ellesmere, son of Lord John Grey, Jamie and Claire Fraser, husband of Margareth Ransom. And he was whole, at last.
They were all over them, like pigeons after bread. William helped her down the horse and, when he jumped of it himself, Dottie was already there, her hands pressed against his hands, a smile in her blue eyes. Claire was by her side, with a bright white apron, asking about any injuries. For the first time since she found William again, the sour taste of jealously filled her mouth and she felt extremely… lonely.
“Follow me to the camp and I will have you mended in a bit.” Claire said, showing him the way, while Lord John, Jamie and Roger talked with each other. Peggy moved a bit, taking Claire’s hand.
“Maybe… I could help, Mrs. Fraser.”
A long silence stood between them, as Claire blinked, searching for words and Dottie started to turn in a bright shade of pink. She was the daughter of a duke, after all, and found the composure sooner them the others. Taking Peggy by the hand and walking towards the woods, she said:
“Maybe, darling, it would be better for you to freshen up a bit, before helping Mrs. Fraser in the camp.”
Peggy was confused and a bit startled by the way they treated her. Despite the very kind words Dottie had said to her, she was feeling like they didn’t want her near her husband, her legitimate husband, anymore. Anger filled her veins and she wanted to scream with the blond bubble of joy by her side.
It all vanished when Dottie left her by a stream that ran behind the camp, with fresh and clear water. It formed a small pond and the translucent water made a mirror among the nature. And she was there, dirty with mud, her nipples visible against the very thin shift, that embraced her moist skin. Her hair was a mess, tangled and sprinkled with dark water.
She was hideous.
“I thought you would want to take care of your looks a bit… For Willie. He loves you dearly and I don’t think he cares about the way you look, but…I’m married myself and…It is always nice to feel like a beauty by their side.” Said Dottie by her side, as she returned from the camp with a bundle of clothes in her arms. “I’ve brought you one of my old dresses, before I married a quacker. It was designed for the daughter of a duke and it is fit for the wife of an earl.”
Peggy felt ashamed for the angry thoughts she had against Glinda (as she started to nickname the bubbly blond girl) and Mrs. Fraser. If she knew she looked like a swamp monster… she would never have run like a panther towards the battle, appearing in such bad condition in front of the husband she had not seen for more than three months.
So, she accepted Dottie’s help to wash herself, submerging in the freezing pond and taking away all the dirt. The soap was nice and fancy, smelling like lavender, leaving bubbles in her skin. She was rubbed dry and a new, clean, shift was given to her, with a pair of silk stockings, like the ones she had in Ellesmere. Dottie was a tad chubbier than Peggy, so the stays were not used, as the green velvet dress was pinned over her, the cape à la franceise adjusted in her shoulders.
She returned to the camp looking like a motherfucking princess, mostly due to Dottie’s eye for fashion statements. William was sitting by a chair, Claire’s hands finishing the last stitches in his shoulder. She could see the sparkle in his eyes, as she walked to him, the heavy velvet in her shoulders.
“There is my countess.” He said, taking her hand in his, kissing it tenderly in front of his family.
Her heart was almost bursting with joy.
“You must be careful with him, Margareth, dear. I’ve tended his ribs, but he needs rest and comfort for them to mend. The cut in his shoulder wasn’t very serious, but he needed several stitches. I’m trying to finish it but my eyes…” Claire said, taking away the glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. “They are not like they used to be.”
“C’mon, Sassenach, there will be no good in forcing your sight like that. I’m sure Doctor Hunter can finish your stitches in a minute or two, as soon as he leaves the continental soldiers in good care.”
“There are only maybe two or four stitches left. I can finish them…” Claire protested, as the countess held tight to the hand of her husband. She wished she could help William. As soon he was tended by Claire, sooner they would be able to be alone with each other.
The mere thought of having him all by herself, his huge hand touching her body with care…
“Maybe, Mrs. Fraser, I could help. Hold a lantern for you, maybe or…or even finish those stitches for you, with your help.”
Claire smiled to the girl dressed in a rich green velvet.
“A lantern would be amazing, sweetheart.” She said, as Jamie approached them with two lanterns, handling one to the countess. “If you please, come closer…”
As Peggy walked to the other side and laid eyes on those stitches, she knew she had made the wrong decision. When she was younger, the countess thought she could be a doctor and take care of the sick and old, like her grandfather. However… as she watched the large scar in William’s shoulders, the black stitches in contrast to his white skin, the blood slowly dripping from the part still hanging open…
She knew she would have been a terrible doctor, passing out in a wave of green velvet and white petticoats.
Chapter 33: Love as trust
She started to acknowledge her surroundings slowly. The warmth by her side, the hands sliding up and down her back, the heart beating under her ear, the breath tinkling her nose. Her eyelids fluttered, as she played with her toes and sighed cheerfully.
He was there, her husband, caressing her skin and watching her sleep:
“You’re a very bad physician, Margareth.” He whispered in her ear and she felt her heart skip a beat.
Peggy opened her eyes and tilted her head a bit, to see his big blue irises staring right into her. He had a soft smile in his lips, mocking her faint.
“I never said I was good.” She tried to help her cause. “I just wanted to help. I felt very…useless near Mrs. Fraser and Dottie.”
He laughed, a sound that came from deep in his body and made her tingle with excitement.
“They’re used to the care for the injured and the dying, my dear. Mother Claire has been tending those in need for more than forty years, or so I was told, and Dottie helps her husband every day.” He paused, taking her cheek in his strong hand. “You have no need to learn their trade. You’re a countess, Margareth.”
Indeed, she was. Their courtship, if you could call that seduction game something like that, and their marriage happened too fast and, by the time she was travelling through the stones with her heart broken and tears in her eyes, she wasn’t countess for a very long time.
In fact, it was only when Jemmy called her “Lady Ellesmere” that she felt the heavy burden of nobility in her shoulders.
But these were things she didn’t want to remember. She didn’t want to recall those months alone in the future, her mind racing to William and to her stupid decision of leaving him. She didn’t want to explain to him what had happened and didn’t want to hear apologies.
The deed was done.
“I was worried when you fainted.” He said in her ear and Peggy could see the feeling in his eyes. “You fell like a rotten log, Peggy.”
“You’ve spent too much time with Mr. Fraser.” She said, touching his long nose with the point of her nail. “You’re starting to sound like him.”
When she finished speaking, she remembered the true nature of her husband’s birth and the quiet talk she had with the Scottish man. Oh, God, she thought, feeling the man underneath her freeze with her phrase.
She didn’t dare to say anything else, afraid of worsening the situation. For a moment, a very different future to what she had been dreaming about appeared in front of her. After all, she had spent those last days imagining Ellesmere Park, with balls and teas to attend in the neighborhood. She wanted to visit London once again and absorb the city in its early years, before industrialization kicked in. She wanted to watch the stars before pollution and the city lights diminish their sparkle.
She wanted, most of all, to pass her fingers through William’s hair, play with his waistcoat, laugh with him while they play chess in the rainy days and hold him in her arms during those long wintery nights.
She thought they would rekindle their romance fast, as soon they laid eyes in each other. And, yes, she was right. She could feel the love creeping through her fingertips and laying in his bare skin. However… there was a strangeness to them, a feeling of awkwardness they were not used to. Since they had laid eyes on each other, they were ever in peace with their own company.
But now? It was like they were walking over eggshells.
“I…Did you… What I mean is…” William broke the silence, trying to think of a question. The difficulty for him to just ask whatever was on his mind made her leave the comfort of his arms, sitting by his side and embrace her knees tightly. She could see the sun setting beneath the flaps of the tent and she wished it was night already, so she could go back to sleep and avoid those questions. “Oh, God, Peggy… What I wanted to know is… Are you pregnant?”
She stood in a shocked silence, her head turning abruptly to the man behind her, that was leaning in one elbow. Her mind started to race, in a sheer panic, thinking of everything that happened on those last five months. Well, she could have been pregnant. She had sex with him when they got married. Multiple times, in fact. But… she…
“No. I got my period, right after…”
She let the phrase die in her mouth, as she was afraid of entering that field of conversation.
One thing was to talk about if she was or she was not pregnant with his child. Other was to remember those last days, before she told him all the truth and he simply accepted the fact she was crazy.
“…Right after you left.” He completed, sitting calmly by her side, a hand placed on her shoulder, covered with velvet. “I think we need to talk, Margareth.”
“I…” She paused, turning to her husband. “I’m sorry, William.”
His fingers were playing with the tips of her hair, slowly sliding through the curls, up and down, right to left.
“I believe we both are.” He said, watching her through his long lashes. “I didn’t trust you like I should and had to, as your husband.”
Peggy laughed, quietly, holding tightly to her knees.
“Well, to be fair, my story was somewhat… fantastical, wasn’t it?”
“Like a fairytale.” He took her hands in his and asked, with a low voice: “So, you went back to your real time?”
She nodded, and William felt warm for the first time in days, with his hands grasping hers tightly. His heart was light in her chest and his tongue was working by itself, telling the story of the days lost.
“I had to, William. I was scared of… of the clinic that you were going to send me to.” She rubbed her fingers against the palm of his hand, feeling the calluses, hard and rough against her soft skin. “The asylums, these days, they are worst than zoos. They are filled to the brim with people, broken and scared, being treated like animals by doctors and nurses, with no hope to ever live a normal life… I thought…”
“You thought that I was trying to get rid of you?” His voice was sharp like the wind outside their tent. “Did you truly think that because I thought you were losing your grasp from reality, I would send you far away from my sight and live my life like you never happened to me?”
Her silence was the only answer William needed.
“I would never do that, Margareth. Dr. Blydon had assured me that the clinic was more like a thermal resort. Many nobles that suffered from the inclement weather in the British Isles go there to improve their health. Lords and ladies, bathing in the sun, swimming in the Adriatic Sea, having balls and elegant diners every day!”
She stood very quiet, thinking, as he said those words, ashamed for her abrupt reaction.
“I didn’t know… Back then.” She paused. “What I learned in my history classes was much different to those spas.”
He shook his head, trying to forget those days past. He remembered when he searched for his wife, when he ran to the stables, afraid of what he would find: a missing carriage, scared horses…
“At first…I thought you got overwhelmed. You have disappeared one time, it would make sense that you ran away, afraid of facing your new life. But… I kept remembering your words, Peggy. And those ruins… They were there, mocking me, as I ran towards them.” He sighed, pulling her closer to his body. “Do this make any sense?”
“Yes. Yes, William.” She whispered, her lips laying soft in his cheek. “I missed you the moment I arrived back home. I was broken for so many days… So many days…”
“I only went back to my duty because Lord Rokesby forced me to come. He pushed me inside a carriage and made sure I would only be left alone by the time we reached New York.” He whispered next to her, feeling her tremble underneath his fingertips. “I stared for so long those ruins. Trying to understand what happened. Trying to make amends with your departure.”
Her hands left his hands, trailing the tears down his cheek, sweet and tender like herself.
“Why did you come back?” William asked, feeling the lump in his throat. He had to conquer his emotions or he would be crying like a child in his wife’s arms. “After so many days… How?”
She smiled to him, shy and filled with tenderness, her hand cupped to his cheek in a protective manner.
“You left me a letter, in Fraser’s Ridge.” She laughed, her eyes sparkling. “It’s a bit nonsensical, but it was dated some days prior. I don’t know how it survived for so many years, but it is being taken care in the future by a very nice gentleman that contacted your great-grandchild… OUR great-grandchild…who showed that to me. You still loved me, William. And I still love you.”
His heart was beating so fast he thought he would faint in her arms… How ridiculous would that be? Fainting like a girl in his wife’s arms? But, God, how glad he was he talked to Mother Claire about Peggy. How glad he was she understood him and comforted him, as the days went by in Fraser’s Ridge and those brave men and women figured out how to bring the love of his life back to him.
They did bring her back. And he loved Mother Claire and Father Jamie for that.
“Do you still love me, Will?” She asked in a low voice, turning his face to hers, so to see his eyes. “We stood apart for many months and you know that we got married without knowing each other well. It was all very passionate and erotic but…”
“I do. I did. I will always love you, Peggy.” He said, interrupting her speech. “Never doubt my love for you, as it did bring you back to me, through time and space.”
She sighed, jumping in his arms.
“I love you too.”
He tasted like dirt and smoke. It should be horrible in the tongue, but it gave shivers down her spine and made her legs tingles with excitement. She was alive, at last.
“Oh, how I missed your lips…” He whispered against her mouth, pulling her down his chest, laying softly on the blankets underneath them.
“Only my lips?” She joked, licking his chin, teasing his senses.
He groaned and Peggy could feel the electricity in her veins.
“I missed your eyes, as well.”
She broke the kiss apart, watching his eyes, shining with wickedness underneath her.
A crooked smile appeared in the corner of William’s mouth.
“I missed your nose. Your chin. Your hair.”
She rubbed herself against his body.
“So, you’ve missed only my head?”
Before she knew, his hands were pulling down her bodice and his face was buried between her breasts, licking and biting the tender skin of her nipples, the soft curves of her femininity. She gasped with the contact, holding tighter to his body, pressing her hand against the bad shoulder and making him groan against her chest.
“Oh, God, William… Your shoulder!” She tried to say, but he covered her mouth with his once again and she forgot completely what she was saying.
Peggy only recovered her senses when she felt callous and rough hands sliding up her thighs, searching for something occult between her legs.
“William! You’re injured!” She complained, taking her mouth away from his, focusing her vision on those beautiful blue eyes. “We shouldn’t…”
It was too late. His fingers had found what they were looking for: the button that poets and painters would declare as being the vortex of women. And what made her shriek with pleasure just with the slight movement William made with his thumb against it.
“You do not want it, Margareth?” He asked, in a husky voice, that made her legs shiver and a fire build up against her womb.
How could she deny it? That horrible, terrible man.
“Well… I… Truth to be told…” She was trying to convince her brain to lie and deny the amazing gift those fingers were giving her, sliding slowly up and down her stub. “I… I do want it…”
“That’s it then.”
And before she could gather the rest of her thoughts, William increased the pressure slightly, making her shriek underneath him, her hands grasping his hair falling down his shoulders, burying his face in her breast, as her legs closed around him, compelling her husband to do what she wanted. Now.
No, Margareth! He is injured! His ribs are broken! His shoulder is stitched!
“No!” She exclaimed, pushing him away. “No! We can’t do that, not right now! You’ve to recover from your injuries, William.”
Taking his head from her chest, Peggy could see William’s eyes filled with lust and it made her gasp with anticipation. But what she also saw buried behind those blue lenses made her even more fragile and scared: his eyes were glistening with love, so much love she felt like she would drown in a sea of lapis lazuli, embraced by the warm waves that washed down the shore whispering I love you so.
“No, Margareth.” He announced, pausing only to take one strand of hair falling down her face from her eyes. “I will make love to you today, tomorrow and all the days to come. I don’t care if I’m injured or half dead. I will love you with my heart and worship you with my body until the day you don’t want me anymore.”
How could she breath after that?
“Do you want me, Margareth?”
Oh, God, yes.
“Yes. Oh, Yes, Will…”
Before she could finish her pleading, her skirts were already being pushed out of the way, his trousers falling to his knees and his body entering hers with hunger, lust and love.
Oh, so much love.
She was whole again, feeling her husband claim her as his own, kissing her mouth, vowing her his life in whispers, as he moved up and down, tighter, faster, harder, until he spilled his soul towards hers.
And there it would stay for the next seventy years.
Chapter 34: Love as a new beginning
Hello to all! We are aproaching the end of our story. However, we still have one more chapter to go, that will be released next friday! Have a great weekend! :)
It was dawn and the birds were starting to sing, welcoming the warm embrace of the sun in their colorful feathers. She was wearing the green velvet dress, the borrowed gift fit for a countess, but her hair was loose down her back, the strands brushing against her elbows, as she covered herself with the tartan.
Her husband’s tartan, as he was a Fraser as well.
“Good morning.” He said behind her, shirtless and tired. They had made love all night, despite he was injured and exhausted from the day before. She didn’t care, after all. They were together, at last.
“Good morning, milord.” She said, opening her arms and allowing him to enter in her embrace, covering his back with the red and black of the Fraser clan.
“I thought I had done a good job worning you out last night. I believe I have to improve my tactics…” He whispered in her ear, as his hands tried to pull down her bodice.
Peggy shrieked, trying to take away his hands of her, laughing constantly as his mouth covered her neck, his stubble scraping her skin.
“Oh, no, milord! You had done a great job last night.” She said, watching those big blue eyes with love. “My mind was restless, despite the lovely pains I have over my entire body.”
She felt his hand cupping her right cheek, with such care and tenderness that she could almost faint with pleasure. Peggy had spent an entire night with the man she loved and who she thought she would never see again.
It was like a dream.
“What do you think of so, my dear?” He whispered, so low, that she knew not even a rabbit over the meadow would have listened.
“Our life.” She answered, getting closer to the warm body next to hers. “I want to go back to what we used to have but I fear… things would never be the same.”
He stood very quiet for a moment, his fingers caressing the skin of her high cheek, until he said:
“Indeed, my dear, things will be different. I know about yours secret and you know about mine. We are not the same couple that got married in London or the heartbroken people that left Ellesmere Park.” He paused, pushing her to his chest, his hand gently touching her hair. “But why would that be bad? What do you have to fear?”
“I… I don’t want to part with your family. I don’t want to break your heart, William.” She whispered over his chest. “I’ve seen how happy you were, when you saw Lord John and Mrs. Fraser. Dottie and Mr. Hunter… Mr. Fraser.”
She tried to put her thoughts in a line, but they were too erratic.
“You’ve went to Fraser’s Ridge. You were there, before I arrived. You were with Brianna, Jemmy, Roger and… I think you had a wonderful time. It would be unfair to take you away of such happiness.”
She heard him chuckle, making her raise her head and look in his eyes.
“Are you mocking me, William Ransom? After all I did to get back to your ungrateful arse?”
His laughter grew, as he pushed her tighter in his arms.
“Oh, God, Peggy. You would never take me away of happiness.” He paused, making her look back at him. “You are my happiness. You are my family now. I sure love dad and Mother Claire. I also enjoyed very much my stay in Fraser’s Ridge with Bree, Roger, Jemmy and Mandy. Even with Jamie. I mended back my pieces and dared to have hope once again. But… darling… I will part with them in high spirits. If I part with you, I will break once again.”
She smiled at his speech, unable to think of words of her own.
“So, you don’t mind if we return to Ellesmere Park?”
He shook his head against her hair.
“Not at all. I will have time to settle things with the administrator and to verify with the tenants if everything is well for the winter.”
She smiled to him, tenderly.
“We can spend Christmas like I did with my family and yours. Well, ours. We will need some pine trees, evergreens, mistletoes, candles, popcorn…”
“It would be so much fun!” She finished, her eyes glistening with amusement. William seemed a little confused, but his eyes were tender and he had a little smile on the corner of his lips.
“Maybe we will start a new trend among the British society.” He said, looking at the pink hues of the morning in front of them.
“Oh, no. Only with Queen Victoria we started to celebrate Christmas like I’m used to.”
William didn’t ask about who was Queen Victoria, like Peggy expected him to do. He just kissed her senseless, on that morning in Georgia.
With her mind at ease, Peggy returned to their tent, to get some sleep. While she got some rest, William decided to find a new shirt and jacket, as they were still in the Continental camp and he didn’t dare to use his red military coat in there.
He found Jamie near the stream, cleaning his face in the cold water. His father raised his head, alarmed by his presence and retrieved his composure as soon he saw the earl.
“Me and Claire thought that ye two would spend all day in that wee tent of yours.” Said the Scottish man, drying his face with a towel.
“She need some rest and I needed a shirt. And a jacket, if you have some to spare.” Answered William, leaning over a tree.
The older man laughed, placing his hand over his son’s shoulder.
“Ye are lucky, lad. I have some clothes to spare to ye. Come with me.”
They walked in an amicable silence, something that William never thought they would witness in his life. The hate and hurt he felt towards the man that gave him life was gone, and now, he only felt affection for the Fraser’s who have helped him so.
“Ye seen much better today.” Said Jamie, as they approached the horses near the fire they slept around. “Claire would like to have a look on ye shoulder and change the dressing, but love, apparently, can cure all things.”
“It would be nice if Mother Claire could check me and Peggy, before we left.” Announced William, waiting by the side of the bay horse. This made Jamie look up, with the bundle of linen in his hands.
“What do ye mean by leaving? Do ye father knows about that?”
William rolled his eyes. Of course, Jamie would start lecturing him like a father would, twenty years too late.
“Peggy wants to go back to Ellesmere Park.” He paused, realizing he would need to open his heart to the man. “We spent too long apart and it would be nice for us to be back together in our home. I’m finally excited about taking care of my estate and my legacy as an earl.”
Jamie scratched his beard for a moment.
“I don’t know, lad. Ye hurt yourself pretty badly and I think ye should heal properly before going inside a boat and crossing the ocean.” He paused, the blue eyes staring right into the copy in front of his. “Ye and Margareth are very welcome in Fraser’s Ridge, ye kenn that, don’t ye?”
William couldn’t help but smile to the Scottish in front of him.
“I know. We are family, after all.” He paused, looking for words. “I would love to spend some time with my family, but Peggy needs me. We need each other and we need this time together. We will have many opportunities to come and stay in Fraser’s Ridge.”
Defeated, Jamie nodded and decided to handle to his son the bunch of clothes he had asked.
“Ye still have to talk with Claire. She will make sure that ye and Peggy are ready and with provisions to departure. Ye will need to talk with John, as well. Considering the state of war and the winter approaching, you will need his help to find a ship and have the documents ready to the voyage.” He paused, hands in his waist. “I bet that Dottie wants to send letters to her family there and…”
William finally understood what was going on and couldn’t help but smile. He would have to get used to a loud and large family, in which every member would have a word to give of encouragement and criticism.
“I will wait. I’m sure Mother Claire would not want me to go back in a bad shape and Dad would need some time to arrange everything with the army.” He checked the man with the corner of his eye. “Maybe a week?”
The thunderous laughter filled the trees and called the attention of Claire, who was inside one of the hospital tents. She grinned watching father and son, side by side, and William filled his heart with love once more. The sun was shinning high in the sky, the birds were singing and he was having a great moment with his father.
He had made his decision: he would leave to start his own family with Peggy but they would enjoy those next days with his family and his friends. He would spend as much time with Jamie as he could, learning as much as he could about taking care of an estate. He wanted to talk to his father John about Peggy and her big secret, so if anything happened to him, John would know how to help her. He wished to talk more to Claire, to understand better the future she came from.
He even missed talking to Dottie, with her little child in his arms.
William knew he would miss those little moments in the future and would wait impatiently for the next time he would see all them together. However, right now, he was looking forward for days in the meadow, kissing Peggy under their favorite tree, spending those snowy Christmas nights together, naked under the sheets.
He was looking forward to his own children to carry in his arms.
The future was just ahead of them.
Claire walked towards them, cleaning her hands in her apron, her smile getting wider and wider. At last, she placed her hands over her hips and waited as Jamie finished his long laugh and turned to William:
“Well, lad, I think one week will have to do.”
Two weeks later…
Peggy was waiting by the deck with her velvet dress and a small chest with some petticoats and shirts to take back to England. It had been a trouble to find a ship willing to venture the Atlantic so near the winter, specially with a woman on board. Lord John went up and down the coast of Georgia looking for a proper vessel for an earl and his countess, while William arranged for the documents to allow their passage back to the country.
Apparently, the week they spent with the Hunters and the Frasers in the camp was enough for the English to consider William missing in action, sending a letter to Lady Ellesmere, in London. With some time and patience to prove he was alive and not missing, William manage to sell his commission from the army and return home just as the Earl of Ellesmere.
“It is not much, but we didn’t give anything to you for your wedding day.” Said Claire by her side. Earlier that day, she appeared with the small chest and the contents inside of it. Fine linen and silk, a Fraser tartan and knitted scarfs.
“I loved it!” Peggy said, taking Claire’s hands in hers. “It was the best gift you could have given to us. Especially for these next few days on the sea.”
Claire pulled the girl into her arms.
“Oh, sweetie. I loved to meet you.” She whispered in Peggy’s hair. “Please, do write. Roger said he would try to return from Fraser’s Ridge in time of your departure but…”
“It is fine, Mrs. Fraser. I’m sure that, after he witnessed so much romance during those last days, he was thrilled to meet his wife again.” She said, taking Claire’s hands in hers. “And I will write. By the time the war ends, you and the family are very welcome to visit us.”
“Oh, darling.” And she was pulled back to the doctor’s arms.
“Well, I see that you conquered the most precious heart of all.” Said Lord John, walking along the shore with Jamie by his side. They smiled to each other, knowing that Claire was indeed a blessing in disguise, despite the fact that, for Peggy, Claire’s golden heart could be seen by everyone with a working pair of eyes.
“Oh yes, I did.” Answered Claire back, winking at the countess in her arms.
The feeling of departure was around them, like a heavy veil covering the sun. She was thrilled she was going back to her own country, with her husband, to her home. But she grew attached and it was being harder to let go than she thought it would.
Dottie and Dr. Hunter had already left, wishing all the best during the trip and asking a million things to be delivered to Dorothea Hunter, in New York. The doctor, also, had taken of his coat a bunch of letters tied together with a ribbon, to be delivered to Aunt Minnie, as soon as she could. The mail delivery between the colony and England had grown increasingly difficult due to the war and there were many news that the matriarch ought to know, before Benjamin and his family returned in the next spring. The letters smelled fresh and Peggy could feel the quality of the paper. Dottie might have become a quacker, but she surely knew how to spend her money in stationery.
She held to the small bundle for a long time, watching the bumble of people, the pats on the back, the gentle kisses on the cheek. William finished arranging their cabin and went forward to talk to Jamie and Lord John. Meanwhile, Claire assured one more time Peggy knew how to treat for William’s wounds, even though it had improved greatly since the two weeks she had been tending him (while Peggy paid close attention to what the doctor was doing).
The man approached for the final goodbyes, with smile on their faces and a gleam on his eyes. Jamie waited while Claire pulled the girl back to her arms, kissing softly the top of her head and whispering the best advices she could think about the 18th century.
“We will always come to you, when needed, lass. Don’t ye forget that.” The Scottish man said, placing a hand over Peggy’s cheek, watching her with those bright blue eyes, before turning to embrace his son.
Peggy turned her look to the side, uncomfortable about peeking the tender scene between estranged father and headstrong son. By her side, with a sly smile on his face, was Lord John, appearing satisfied.
“You’ve brought our family together, Margareth. And I will never have words to thank you for that.” He said, turning to her with his pale blue eyes.
“Oh, Lord John, really… I was doing just a favor to myself.” She insisted. After all, she was being true. Peggy never thought that while trying to go back to the man she loved, she would mend fences broken through the years.
Lord John laughed out loud, his body moving in a manner that Peggy never thought she would see coming from him, the ever so poised and cool Lord John. But the man was happy and glad everything turned out ok. She would give him the liberty to act like a damned fool.
“I hope to see you soon in Ellesmere Park, sir.”
“Christmas, perhaps?” He asked, raising one eyebrow.
“That would be perfect.”
By the time they got to the frigate’s rail, tears had been shed and every one of those in the harbor had asked for them to not forget those moments in the fall of ’79. As if Peggy would forget anything: she would tell her children the story of how she broke several laws of physics just to be with their father again.
And the Fraser’s and the Grey’s would be there to assure them it was true.
“Are you ready to the beginning of our new life?” Asked William by her ear.
“It had already begun.” She answered, turning to catch his lips with hers own.
Chapter 35: Love as a new story
The story of William and Margareth is coming to an end, but the story of Eleanor and Adam Grey is only beginning!
Read, next friday,
"The Lady in Grey".
Well, she should have seen that. It’s not like she had been avoiding the fact or she was being really careful.
Peggy just… forgot.
It was so easy to be with William. They spend Christmas time in Ellesmere Park and it was lovely: the fresh smell of pines, the gifts under the tree, the eggnog late at night, when only the two of them were in the kitchen downstairs.
It was cold and snowy outside, making it very easy to stay until late in bed, with only their bodies and the dying embers over the fireplace to keep them warm.
And, then, it was a new season. They returned to London, where William took his seat in the Parliament with grace and dignity, transforming himself in the politician Peggy’s father one day aspired to be. Meanwhile, everyday they had a concert, ball or fête to attend, making their social life a stream of colors and music.
It felt like they were constantly leaving one party to attend another. However, this was clearly not true, as Peggy thought to herself, kneeled on the floor next to her chamber pot.
Clearly, they had time to have sex. Many times.
She got up and went to see the calendar she left on her dressing room. There, she could see all the events she had for the months ahead of her, including the days she would have her period, just to be ready to decline any invitation during those days.
God knew she hated those little tissues she had to use as pads.
Yes. There it was. She should have had her period already on that month. And last month she had skipped it entirely. And the same happened the other month.
Dear God, how did she not realize what was happening? She always kept track of it with such… care.
For a moment she stood in her dressing room, a hand over her belly, still flat and firm under her digits and let the knowledge sink in.
A baby. A real baby. Hers and William’s.
“Peggy, dear?” She heard him, calling from her room, which prompt her mind to run all the errands she had to do for the baby.
He or she will need clothes. A crib. She had to see a doctor. Oh God, she was feeling sick again. Diapers. They used cloth diapers in the 18th century, right? She would have to buy bottles. Did they had bottles or it was something new?
Many things were different in terms of pregnancy and motherhood back in the Georgian times. Children were treated differently and many would see their parents only a few times a day. Women often died in childbirth and it also had a large margin of infancy death.
“Are you alright?” Asked William, watching her hypervantilating, with her hands clasped over her belly.
She raised her head and, while watching those big blue eyes, she forgot about her previous worries. He was there, right next to her. Everything would be fine, if they were next to each other.
A slow smile creeped over William’s lips, prompting him to take her into his arms as fast as he could.
“A baby? How? When? Why? What?” He mumbled over her hair, holding her as tightly as he could.
“Yes. Well, I imagine it was the usual way. I think by December, but we have to be sure about it. Why? Maybe it was supposed to be. And I really can’t answer the last question. It’s all over the place.” She said, chuckling, making him lough harder.
“Oh, God. What we should do?” He paused, looking at her with those wonderful eyes, looking surprised and delighted at the same time. “We have to stay in. Maybe we can return to Ellesmere Park. We have to talk with Dr. Blydon. And Mother Claire. She is the best doctor I know. Do you think she would come? Lord Rokesby could help us arrange a vessel…”
“Oh, Will!” She whispered, taking his head in her hands and puling against her lips. “Would you really do all that?”
He looked surprised.
“Of course, I would! It is our first born, Peggy.” He smiled again, his eyes gleaming with possibilities. “We should invite our family to Ellesmere Park, for Christmas. To meet our child, what do you think?”
“It would be lovely!” She said, closing her eyes and imagining their house filled with laughter and voices, the snow falling outside, a baby in her arms, surrounded by those she loved most. Lord John, Aunt Minnie, her “grandfather”, Mother Claire and Father Jamie. They would all be there.
“Maybe Adam would like to be the godfather.” Said William by her ear. “It would be nice for him, after everything that happened those last few months…”
Adam Raphael Grey, the second son of the duke of Pardloe, was laying on the curb, thinking of how wrong everything was going with his life. He tried for some time to get up and go back to the pub where he was drinking, until that tall Irish guy decided he was being too inconvenient.
Inconvenient or not, he showed that man how to fight like a gentleman.
And that was why he was injured and drunk, laying over dirt.
He should have started some boxing classes in Gentleman Jack club, but he always thought he would never need such amusements. He was a soldier before he was the heir to a dukedom and, since Ben was missing in battle, he never really thought about having fun.
He had a broken-hearted mother and a father who was stuck in the colonies trying to find his older son. He did have no time to think about anything that was not his family, the title or the estate.
So, he left the army and his friends and went straight to business. He took care of every aspect of the Grey’s life and was, for the first time, responsible for something beyond himself.
He would spend days with the tenants, looking for bugs in the crops, testing new draining methods, bathing in the sun and drenching in sweat. He would go up and down the properties in his horse, looking for things to correct, to make better, to fix up.
And then, his cousin got married. William was his best friend and he introduced to the boy most of the good things in life, as he was 5 years older. However, when he saw the bright blue eyes shine towards that small brunette walking down the aisle towards them… Well… Maybe Adam was missing the best moments of his life.
His mother was recovering from the shock and his father was almost giving up of the search. He was the heir and he was working very hard to make everyone proud. Now… Now he could focus on himself. A pretty girl in his arms, with a nice voice and long lashes. Nice hips, as he wanted as many sons as possible. And daughters, as well.
Adam was sure of his decision by the time William and Margareth returned from the colonies, more in love than ever. His cousin was happy and jump into his duties like Adam did out of despair, seeing his family crumble beneath his fingertips. But William… he had it all.
That Christmas, as he watched the snow fall over Ellesmere Park, those weird pines in every room, decorated with all sorts of odd things, Adam decided that he would start the next season looking for a bride. And he would not rest until he found one.
So, why, in May, the peak of the social season in London, he was laying on a ditch, drunk as a skunk and feeling sorry for himself?
Well. Benjamin was found. Not only found, but he returned home in February, with a wife and a child. It was a shock for all and Adam was truly happy to hold his older brother in his arms once again. His mother was beyond true happiness and even his father had returned for good, just to stay close to his family.
That man never quit a job.
And there they were, all laughs and smiles while Adam felt… lost. He had nothing, anymore. He wasn’t an heir, so Ben would take care of the estate and the tenants for now on. His mother was the image of merry grandmother, holding Ben’s son in her arms and would not need Adam too comfort her anymore (even though his younger brother was still with a woman that already had a husband. A living husband.) and his father was the image of a retired veteran, spending his days in the White’s and going to the Parliament in his spare time.
All the months he dedicated to his family vanish in the air as soon Ben landed on the coast of England. And he just received a little tap in his back and that’s it.
What he was supposed to do?
He couldn’t go back to the army. His father would never let him take care of one of his estates as an administrator (as it would be beneath of his class). He couldn’t just buy a farm as well, for the same reason.
And, God forbid, he would be the worst minister in the world.
Without any prospects in his life, considering that he had only his allowance from his father and nothing else to thrive, he doubted that any girl, at least a sane one, would accept his marriage proposal.
That’s why he found himself drunk in a ditch, after fighting a guy that was too big for him and had cruel eyes. This was his pity party and Adam was not proud of that, despite the fact he was considering to get up just to crawl back inside the pub and take another pint.
Or maybe a nice scotch.
He felt his pocket for a moment, grimacing with pain, noticing that his money was gone as well. He had just a couple of shillings.
Taking a deep breath while standing up, with some difficulty, Adam thought that maybe, just… maybe… he could, one day, find his way back to the life he so much adored. With the woman he dreamed of by his side.
Scotland, May 1447
Eleanor Iona MacDonell, daughter of chief Leith MacDonell was not an easy girl. She was born too small and soon her mother passed away with a high fever, leaving the baby to be cared for her father, which was not one of the best solutions for her case.
Leith MacDonell had only married Iona MacLean to make an alliance with the neighbor clan and never really cared for the girl. She was odd, with her very blond hair, the pale face and the big green eyes that stared into his soul every time he had to consume his marriage. For Leith, it was a blessing when he knew his wife was pregnant. A blessing that only last six months, as he discovered that the little baby in his arms was, indeed, a girl.
Well, he soon managed to fix that, marrying the Hamilton widow, who had two sons with the old chief and could give him the sons he craved so much. By the end of three years of marriage, he had an heir, a spare and a third one that would, most likely, be a priest.
Eleanor never dared to call Adaira Hamilton mom and Adaira never really cared. She had her boys, who would turn to be in command of Eleanor’s own clan, while the girl would probably be shipped to somewhere far away.
Maybe the Highlands.
Being so close to the English border, especially during those days of war, made the clans on the south lose their Scottishness, Angus, the groom, would always tell her.
Things were different in the north, where it would snow year around and the man would walk around shirtless and fearless. There, he said, she would find them with hair as red as the sun and eyes as blue as the lochs. This thought made her touch her strawberry blond hair and wish she was born a highlander.
They were fearless and the bravest warriors in the world, she was told. And she spent her days trying to become one, for better or for worse.
That’s why, despite being considered the prettiest girl in the Lowlands, she was also considered to be a little crazy. Maybe too intense for her own good, jumping on her sorrel, shooting arrows around, fighting any soldier that was on her way, in her breeches and long boots.
She sighed, adjusting the veil over her hair, as she waited to be summoned by her father. She hated the veil and the girdle hanging from her waist. She hated the stiffness of the fabric over her torso and the big sleeves. She felt like the jest in the court and she dreaded that feeling.
“You look awful.” Said her younger brother, Callum, by the door. He was only thirteen years old, but he could be a pain in the ass sometimes.
“At least I don’t have your face.” She joked, making the boy frown at her. Eleanor turned to him and her eyes caught the leaves hanging from his boots and soon she realized what he has been doing all day long. “You’ve been catching herbs again? If you continue to play with witchcraft, you will be the worst priest Scotland ever saw.”
“I will not be a priest. I’ve told you, Ellie.” The boy said, offering her his arm, as they started to go down the aisle from the castle. “I’ve decided: I will be a druid. Like Merlin.”
“Oh, God, here we go again.” She mumbled, under her breath.
“You can mock as much as you like, but hear me out, Eleanor MacDonell, you will need my expertise one day.” Said the boy, in a manner that made Ellie halt on the way and turned to him with frowned brows. Usually, he would always do a speech of such, mocking the fact she was a Scottish who didn’t believe in the magic of the old beings, the faeries on the hills and the goblins on the caves.
But… now… He never sounded so serious, warning her of a future she would need that magic.
“What you’re trying to say, Callum?”
The boy noticed that she read through his words and turned a bright hue of red, trying to escape from her grasp. But Eleanor didn’t spend 17 years of her life just playing soldier. She was strong and she knew very well how to press a man to the floor long enough for him just to spill his secrets.
And down went Callum, almost drowning beneath the flux of heavy skirts and veils, turning a strange shade of purple, before crying, with a shrieking voice:
“I’m talking about your marriage!”
Ellie halted, releasing Callum’s throat as she got up and held tightly to the balcony by her right side. She knew she was past the age to be married, but the rumors regarding the wild spirit of Eleanor MacDonell had crossed the land and every man available was too scared or too tired to take her as his wife. Until now.
“Who, Callum? Who will be my husband?” She was able to whisper… Feeling the excitement pouring down her veins.
“It’s Gordon Wallace, Ellie. Father said that you shall be married by Fall.”
Eleanor froze, thinking about the man she saw visiting her father last summer, his huge belly falling over his belt, the yellowish tone of his skin. He had tiny eyes, black as beads and no hair in his head. Gordon Wallace had so many sons and daughters that she didn’t know why he was in such a need for a wife, especially in such age, but she was sure she wasn’t going to be his new bride.
“That’s why you have to believe in me, Ellie! I have a plan!”