Marian Halcombe’s journal (continued)
For an unknowable time I simply stood in the wintry darkness, my hands at my sides and my mouth open. I could not believe my ears. I did not believe my eyes. I could not grasp what was happening.
Only the whisper of driving snow suddenly brought me to myself. I had shed my coat and hat as we went indoors. My shoes were thin, never meant for rough use, and my gown was of primrose silk. But to turn and knock for entrance again? Reason revolted; it was impossible. Instead I fell back upon habit—I plunged forward. I shuffled through the snow to the lane. In no time the house—the home—Theo had carried me over the threshold of, was invisible in the thick whirl of flakes and fog. But it was only half a mile down the lane to the cottage of Mrs. Hartright and Sarah. Shelter was not far away.
I set myself to walk it. Little Lottie and Micah had had no difficulty, a mere year ago, but the weather then had been mild. Now my delicate shoes were soon wet and broken, and my fingers and toes went numb. My hoops fought the wind. The wet snow soaked my silken skirts so that they dragged around my legs, and the ice of my breath seemed to clog my lungs. The darkness and fog confused me, and when I accidentally stepped off the path I tumbled into the hedge, which caught at my clothing. After I ripped the wide bell of my skirt free I kept an eye on the hedgerows and trees to the right. If I wandered off to the left, across the open heath, I might never find shelter. And surely Theo would follow me and find me? He would gallop up on black Boreas as he had searched for Lottie and Micah. I was his wife, shut out of my own house. He had to come.
He did not. When I stumbled up to it, old Mrs. Hartright’s gate was shut, and my frozen fingers could scarcely lift the latch. I hammered on their door, voiceless, and when Sarah suddenly pulled it open I fell in with it onto the mat.
I tried to explain to them what had happened, but I was so chilled and overwrought that they put me to bed. This morning I wrote the previous pages down for Mrs. Hartright, so that my understanding of the events might be preserved. She had Sarah copy it over fair—my hand was barely legible, and my tears had blotted the ink—and read it to herself, peering through her spectacles and tipping the page to the light. “Surely it is a mere misunderstanding, Marian. You misheard, or misunderstood, some quite ordinary event. Why, they had a memorial service for Margaret Camlet down at the church. With hymns! She cannot be returned from the grave, it is simply not heard of in respectable circles. Sarah shall wrap herself well and walk up the lane. Surely, surely there is some simple explanation.”
This Sarah was very willing to do. It had stopped snowing, but the wind was still keen, and she could not make fast progress. My dress and shoes of yesterday were still too wet to wear, and I sat in the window in a borrowed nightgown and several shawls, watching for her return. When I saw her approach I ran downstairs to hear her account.
Sarah began to speak as she stepped in the door. “Mamma, it is she,” she cried. Bits of ice tinkled down as she unwound her frosty muffler. “I remember Margaret Camlet perfectly well. It is no other. She has moved back into Theo’s house, and says that she was away but now is back, and plans to stay!”
“Great heavens,” Mrs. Hartright said faintly. “But that is impossible.”
“What did Theo say?” I cried.
“I didn’t see him,” Sarah replied. “And I didn’t know how to mention you, Marian. To ask Mrs. Camlet about a second Mrs. Camlet? So I said I was merely hoping to borrow a cup of sugar from their cook—here it is.” From inside her shawl she drew out a tin cup with sugar in it.
Both ladies looked uneasily at me, disheveled in my bare feet and borrowed nightwear. I realized there could be no second Mrs. Camlet, not if the first one was still alive. Suddenly I was Marian Halcombe again. My voice quavered shamefully. “I must go home,” I said, shivering. “To Limmeridge, to Laura.”
“Well, my dear,” Mrs. Hartright fluttered. “That is well thought of. Yes, indeed! Your own family will help you. You are not unprotected. Walter is so capable. But we must find you some clothes, yes. You are too tall to fit into any garment in this house. Your dress, it must be dried and brushed . . .”
The delicate silk fabric of my dress was irretrievably stained by the damp, but the garment could at least be worn. Milly toiled for hours, waving it over the kitchen fire, and when it was dry Mrs. Hartright cobbled together the great rent near the hem where I had torn it on the hedge. My ruined shoes could not be saved, but Sarah lent me a pair of boots that fit well enough. I was frantic to depart. What was...