The journey was as long and tedious as it had been originally, much to Ross’s annoyance. This time, he did not bother to interrupt his gossiping travel companions as he had before. There was no point. He already knew about his father’s death so he had no need for them to clarify their hushed discussion. Nor did he have any interest in conversing with them, particularly considering that the individuals accompanying him were the detestable Ruth Teague and her equally irritating mother. While he might have had a passing attraction to Ruth decades before, her attitude and behaviour had soured any regard he felt. He had never been able to forgive how she or her mother had treated Demelza both before and after their marriage, and he doubted he would be able to speak to them cordially.
As he feigned sleep, Ross had to admit he was a little surprised that he was still dreaming. He would have thought that the dream would have ended a while ago, but it felt like hours had passed. At times it had felt as though he had momentarily drifted off in boredom, but even that hadn’t been sufficient to rouse him from this strange experience. Was it possible to sleep during a dream? He did not know, but he felt as though he was going to slowly go mad if he had to continue to listen to the inane conversation happening in front of him.
After some deliberation, he decided that he would follow his original path and go to Trenwith. There was no particular pressing need to attend, he already knew about Francis and Elizabeth’s engagement, but the thought of seeing his cousin and uncle again after being parted for so long was enough for him to overcome any discomfort he might have felt. He had missed them both, it would be nice to be able to spend time with his family once more before he woke up. Surprising his companions, Ross gave up the pretence of sleep in order to knock on the roof of the carriage to alert the driver that he wished to stop here. He escaped from the vehicle with a sigh of relief as the stifling atmosphere was replaced by the refreshingly cool air of the outside. And with his destination in mind, he slowly began to walk to Trenwith.
The long, meandering journey along the roads of his childhood left him with little other than his thoughts to distract him, and he realised with a sudden pang of longing that Demelza would still be alive in this time. However as quickly as the idea came to him that he could switch direction and visit her instead, he was forced to dismiss it. While seeing his wife in her cross-dressing glory days would no doubt be terribly entertaining, it would probably come across as quite sinister if he sought her out at her father’s home when she had no recollection of meeting him. There was also no guarantee that he would be able to find her before this dream ended, and the hope that he might would only make his awakening all the more devastating.
With some regret, he stuck to his chosen path until he finally reached Trenwith. Upon arriving at his uncle’s home, Ross was shown to the dining room and immediately greeted by the extremely shocked expressions of both his family and Elizabeth’s. It was only now, without the haze of his obsession clouding his thoughts, that he was able to see that some of them also sported looks of horror, Francis and Mrs Chynoweth in particular. No doubt both were worried that he was going to try to steal Elizabeth away, he thought humourlessly. The estranged lover returned from war intent on receiving his prize. Gods, what a fool he had been. Even with the sudden downward turn of his mood it did not escape Ross that, unlike Elizabeth’s mother, Francis at least was quick to recover from his shock and seemed genuinely happy to see that he was alive and well.
“Are you celebrating?” He asked, once they had all recovered from the shock. He was somewhat amused to see the panicky expression on several faces as it dawned on them that they would have to break the news of the engagement. It was strange, but he had to admit to himself how odd it was that a dream would be able to show him so many subtle changes that he had missed when he had originally lived through this incident. Was his mind simply inventing these differences or had he really been so unobservant?
“Francis is getting married.” Charles responded as cheerily as he could, although Ross could still detect an anxious undertone to his voice.
“Congratulations Francis, who to?” He asked out of perceived obligation. It would be strange if he didn’t, but then again this was a dream, why did he care what these figments of his imagination thought of him? Still, he didn’t feel comfortable completely abandoning all civility, so he waited expectantly for an answer to his unnecessary question.
“Elizabeth.” The assembled gathering almost seemed to shrink back from what they no doubt believed to be the inevitable fall out from Ross discovering this fact.
“That’s excellent,” he said sincerely, “I’m very happy for both of you.” If the gathered group were surprised at his survival, they were utterly dumbfounded at his reaction.
Elizabeth in particular looked at him as though he had suddenly started speaking Latin, as though he had said something so incomprehensible that she couldn’t even identify it as English. Having her gaze upon him made the ring in his pocket suddenly feel as though it weighed a ton, and Ross found himself wanting to give it back to her immediately. Despite this, he pushed away the impulse. Even in a dream it would be too inappropriate for him to return it to her at this time, not when her engagement had just been announced.
Seeing that everyone was still too taken aback to speak to him, he decided to break the silence himself. “It was pleasant to see you all, but I will now take my leave and allow you to enjoy your dinner in peace.”
“Will you not stay and eat with us?” Verity asked, and after looking at her Ross almost changed his mind. No longer ruled solely by his emotions, he could see that she has missed him and dearly wanted to catch up, but he was growing tired of this dream. The sooner he returned to his home the sooner he would get the chance to sleep, and with that hopefully end this ridiculously long dream.
“No, I need to see how Nampara has fared in my father’s absence.” He cordially bid them farewell, and most of them managed to shake off their stupor to return the sentiment. He could feel Elizabeth’s stare on him as he left the room, but he paid it no heed. It had been a long time since her attention had held any power over him.
“He took that far better than I was expecting.” Charles said after Ross had left, still somewhat in shock.
“I was at the very least expecting some surprise, but he barely batted an eye at the news!” Mrs Chynoweth scoffed indignantly, offended that the erstwhile soldier had not taken more notice of her daughter’s engagement to another man.
“Well I for one am glad that Ross took the news so well, and if he says he is happy for us then I do not see why we should not believe him.” Francis interjected. “Do you not agree, my dear?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth replied with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.
Eyes still heavy with sleep, Ross absently reached over across the bed, searching for the warmth that could only be provided by another person’s presence. But instead of encountering soft skin as his half-asleep-self expected, there was the distinct absence that he had been greeted by the past few months ever since Demelza had passed away.
Doing his best to push past the grief, he opened his eyes and this time was greeted by the familiar sight of his bedroom. But the more he looked, the more it seemed as though something was not quite right. None of his wife’s belongings were present, not the vanity he had commissioned for her as an anniversary gift, nor the distinctly feminine touch that she had brought to the room’s décor ever since she had taken residence.
A worrying thought occurred to Ross and he immediately jumped out of bed, only to double over in agony due to the sudden weight placed on his injured leg. This on its own almost confirmed his suspicions, but he had to be sure. As soon as the pain reached a manageable level, he limped over to a nearby mirror. He was still young. How could he still be dreaming?
Recalling the events of the previous night, he remembered that after visiting Trenwith he had returned to Nampara and repeated the sequence of events that had occurred originally. Prudie and Jud were thoroughly chastised for their laziness and as soon as he deemed the house clean enough to be lived in he had gone to bed with the full expectation that he would leave this dream and be able to spend a little more time with his children before his inevitable death. He had certainly not imagined that he would wake up still stuck in the past. The realisation that he had made a thought occur to him that he refused to entertain. It was not possible that he had been sent back in time. He could not allow himself to even hope that this was true, as it would be all the crueller when he woke up (if he woke up that is).
Firmly pushing the idea to the back of his mind, Ross decided that the best course of action would be to distract himself with work. He went to visit the miners and was pleased to see several familiar faces that had not been in his life for many years. He may have lived to a ripe old age, but life was not as fair or as kind to the working class. Renewing old acquaintances occupied his attention for a while, but in the days that he spent busily working to restore the estate he found that not even the joy he took in his returned strength could stop his earlier idea from creeping back to the forefront of his thoughts.
The more time he spent in this new, strange reality the more he was growing to accept that there was no returning from this place. Somehow it seemed that he had been granted a second chance at life and his mind was full of regrets that he now had the chance to change. While many ideas swirled around his head, most prominently he realised that this could be a chance for him to be a better husband to Demelza and a better father to their children. The future was entirely his to mould.
Caution be damned, Ross decided he would start to make some plans. There was still the possibility that this was a dream, but it was starting to seem more and more unlikely. This world was far too clear and crisp for it to be simply be conjured up by his brain and he doubted that he would have remembered in quite this much detail events that had happened to him years ago. If this was an opportunity to begin anew, he could not afford to waste it.
A few days after Ross had tentatively accepted what had happened to him, an invitation to Francis and Elizabeth’s wedding arrived, stating that the event was to take place in three weeks. The letter reminded him that he had met Demelza on a market day during one of the weeks following the marriage, although he could not specifically recall which week. That in itself was not too much of an issue, he would simply attend every market day until he found her, regardless of the inconvenience. Laziness would not come between him and the chance to give his wife a better life.
It did sting a little that he would have to wait so long until he would see her again, but he could not think of a reasonable excuse for meeting her any earlier. There was the distinct possibility that she would refuse his offer of employment if he simply turned up at her father’s home in Illugan and demanded her by name. Grudgingly, he acknowledged that the best course of action would be to meet her as he had originally.
He was so deep in thought that he almost missed Verity’s arrival on horseback. Leaving Jud and Prudie to continue working, he joined his cousin somewhere a little more private for their discussion. As they walked along the cliffs of Cornwall, Verity lightly holding onto the reigns of her horse, she told him how she had fared while he was gone and he told her about the war. In his younger years he had often been unwilling to speak of his time in the army, but time and distance had allowed him to heal and recall the events with relative objectivity. But while Verity was obviously interested in catching up, it soon became clear that there was something more urgent on her mind, and eventually she was unable to stall any longer.
“I suppose you were surprised about the engagement.” She began tentatively, but despite her tone she was scrutinising him intently, clearly looking for any false cheer in his reply that indicated the news had bothered him more that he had been letting on.
“Not particularly.” He felt no need to lie about this particular fact, but it suddenly occurred to him that if he was reliving his life then he would have to lie. Telling anyone about his knowledge of the future could potentially be dangerous, the people of Cornwall were superstitious and Ross did not want to risk accusations of witchcraft. The thought of deceiving the people who meant so much to him left a bitter taste in his mouth, but it was not something he was going to be able to avoid.
“I was surprised that you were not more upset. I thought- we all thought that there was an understanding between you before you left. You were both so besotted with each other, and yet you barely seem to care that she is marrying Francis.”
“It has been three years Verity, a lot has changed.” More than she would ever be able to understand. “My feelings for Elizabeth are not what they were, and I have no interest in coming between her and Francis.” Ross told her sincerely, hoping his answer would placate her, but she still seemed unconvinced. Knowing his own past, he could acknowledge that her attitude was justified considering how he had reacted to the engagement the first time around.
“So, will you be going to the wedding?” He could feel the weight of challenge behind her question, as though she would not believe him until he had proven to her that he had set aside his feelings.
“Of course.” He answered with a smile. He needed to fill up the time between now and when he could finally be reunited with Demelza, and attending the event would allow him to demonstrate not only to Verity, but to the rest of his family that he had set his feelings for Elizabeth aside. He had learned so much since he had first lived this life, and now he would be able to prove it.