Breath-taking chapter image by PhoenixAlthor @ TDA
I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work, however, all OCs mentioned herein do belong to me. In addition, this story is a work of fiction, not historical fiction. I have taken many historical liberties while writing this piece and some of it may be considered anachronistic.
I stood on the narrow landing above the stairs and waited for Doctor Norris. He had visited Constance and left her still swooning upon her bed, only to request an audience with Samuel. A private audience.
And something within me sent off a shrill warning cry, the likes of which I had never heard except in the dead of winter, when the wolves gathered around the village borders and picked off stray sheep and chickens. The noise now deafened my senses, blooming in my breast and bringing with it a certain iciness that left me weak.
I had never seen a child in such peril before.
Hannah, however, was surely accustomed to Constance’s fits. She sat on the stairs below me, darning the end of an apron with quick efficiency. I watched the needle flash as it reflected the firelight from the company room and minded how easily she sat. How quiet.
It made me all the more frightened.
Hours had passed since Constance had returned home. Collapsing into her father’s arms, she had been carried up to bed and had not opened her eyes yet. The broth I had brought her some time ago sat in its bowl uneaten and my hands trembled now as I remembered pressing the spoon to her closed lips.
Dear Lord, if she should die….
I was convinced that Dr. Norris knew her fate. That he would emerge from Samuel’s study with a face that was grave, only to tell us that there might be no hope. For certainly, a child could not withstand such a malady, such a sickness that married delirium with paroxysms. I did not know what to think…only that Hannah would do better to be somber rather than cheerful.
Staring at the back of her white cap, I once again subdued my annoyance. She was young yet, and perhaps not acquainted with death. But then I remembered that she was, indeed, an orphan and, God help me, I felt my anger rise.
But then the fear returned as I heard my husband’s study door open below stairs. Hannah herself looked up and put her sewing to the side. Steadying myself, I moved down to the common room.
Dr. Norris did not look so grave as I had expected. In fact, his heavy cheeks were still flushed from the cold. He nodded once to me and then to Samuel, who, I noticed, was as pale as death.
“You will mark what I have told you, Mr. Palmer,” Norris said. He was pulling his gloves on. Hannah came down the stairs and fetched his cloak from the kitchen.
“Aye,” Samuel said. He was wringing his hands. “But I would not have word of this reach the village. This must stay within my home.” Despite his harried appearance, my husband managed to infuse his voice with authority.
Dr. Norris put his hat on with a respectful dip of his chin. “You have my word, sir, though I would advise you not to defer any longer.”
Suddenly, Samuel was furious.
“Am I not the minister of this village?” he thundered. “Am I not learned in all spiritual matters? You forget, Doctor, that I was educated at Harvard.”
Humble to a fault, Dr. Norris deferred. “I understand that, sir. But bear in mind that I have done all that I can for your daughter. If the cause of her illness be unnatural, I am powerless. I pray for her, sir.”
When he left, I felt all the strength drain out of my legs and was forced to lean upon the closed door.
Samuel was pacing before the fireplace. I dared not speak, my mind was numb….
Unnatural, the doctor had said. Unnatural.
“He thinks that Constance is bewitched,” Samuel muttered tersely, though I could see his left eye twitch slightly. “He would have me look to the spiritual rather than the physical. But…but there is no sign of it, no sign of attacking spirits in my household.”
I thought, rather, that he was trying to guard himself against some indomitable truth. For myself, I could say nothing.
“I do not believe it,” he declared. “And I will not have a charge laid against me that some malevolent demon were witching my child.”
My husband paused and looked at me, as if hoping that I might agree with his sentiments. After a while, I found my tongue.
“I trust in your judgment, Samuel,” I told him, praying, at the same time, that he might settled the matter in his own mind. “We must go to God for Constance now.”
And to my great surprise, my words soothed him.
“Aye,” he said and touched my cheek lightly.
But within my breast, the warning cry still sounded, and my heart was shattered with the cry of the hungry wolf.
I might say, with some relief, that the fever did not dull my senses. Indeed, when I felt awareness returning, the sights and sounds of the world assaulted me with their sharpness. Footsteps became rumbles of thunder, whispered voices turned into the wind. And I saw with my eyes all that was clear and bold and real.
God help me, then, that my first sight should have been of Ann.
She was sitting on the very edge of my bed when I awoke and for the longest time I hoped that she would not notice me. My skin had a strange, detached feel to it. For several minutes I allowed my body to readjust to consciousness. I felt the scratchy fabric of my shift and the sheen of old sweat on my forehead. Turning my head slightly, I noticed the light of dawn coming from the window and guessed that I had slept the night through.
Never should I have thought the delirium had kept me for a week.
I must say, it took Ann some time to see that I was awake and sensible once more. She looked tired, I noted and more of her fair hair was falling out of her cap. Her skirts, once so fine and neat, were now wrinkled. A grim feeling of satisfaction surged through me, and I tried to sit up, only to find that my head was suddenly as heavy as a wagon wheel.
Ann heard my body falling back down onto the pillows.
“Constance, dear child.” She was up on her feet in an instant and hovering over me. The look in her eyes suggested that she did not think me quite aware of her actions. Her movements were careful and slow, her hands framing my shoulders as if I were a naught but a child’s poppet.
“Constance,” she repeated my name once more.
This time, I felt inclined to reply. “May I have some water?”
And oh, the relief that shaped her countenance was unexpected. “I must call your father. Oh, praise God!”
Some tiny mote of worry settled in my breast and bloomed. Ann was acting much too seriously, as though I had been in mortal peril and not simply slumbering. Understanding struck me then, fierce and relentless, its teeth jagged enough to shred my calm.
My father knew of Mr. Rockwood. He knew of what the man had said to me in the woods. And he knew, dear Lord, he knew such horrific things!
I let out a faint bleat of despair, only to have Ann coddle my face with her chilled hands.
“Constance, what ails you, child?”
I thought this a most ridiculous question, but held my tongue nonetheless. “How long…how long…”
“How long have I been asleep?”
She looked at me queerly then, as though perhaps I had in fact turned into a dullard. “You have been in a delirium this past week,” she said.
My hands gripped the blankets convulsively as she spoke. A week!
“Dr. Norris has come and gone and still you were not to be roused,” she continued. Suddenly, I saw the tears in her eyes. “Child, we thought you should die!”
She surprised me with her sobs, which were fragile and muffled. I watched her back heave and fall by my bedside.
Could it be possible that she and my father had no knowledge of Mr. Rockwood? As it was, I remembered very little of the incident myself, except for the fiendish transformation he had undergone at the very last. But I had been alone in the woods, had I not? So very alone….
When Ann had stopped her weeping, I too found myself overtaken by a sense of purpose. My secret must still be my secret and nothing I should say or do could alert Ann otherwise.
I was about to speak and ask again for water when she interrupted me. Her face, I noted, was not so mousy as I once thought. In the dawn light, I found it sharp and full, albeit streaked with tears.
“I am sorry now, Constance, that I let you walk out of doors that morning. I should have gone with you, at the very least, although Dr. Norris says there was nothing I might have done.” She clasped my hand in hers. “But we have been blessed, I should say. Constance, may we not be friends now?”
Bitter loathing rose into my mouth and settled there, leaving a coppery taste behind. “Do you wish now that you had not wed my father and come into his house?” I asked hoarsely. “Do you not wish the sickly child you inherited should have died?”
But oh, even I was ashamed of my words.
Ann’s grip loosened on my hand. She was devastated, I saw, entirely devastated…
Hannah saved us both from more blood. She came through the door just then, started upon seeing me awake, and then smiled.
“I should never have put my faith in Dr. Norris,” she said.
Ann heard her voice and turned around, looking strained. “You must fetch Mr. Palmer. Tell him Constance is awake at last. Thank God!”
Hannah’s smile turned lopsided. “He have been praying since yesterday afternoon,” she said, as though I might be impressed to know that my father had been down on his knees in his study for so many hours…and for my sake alone. “I shall try to rouse him.”
When she left, I felt all the bitterness seep out of me. Ann was by my bedside table, pouring water from a pitcher into cup. Her hands shook.
When she handed the drink to me, I found I could not look at her. Surely, she should hate me now…
“Constance,” she said, pressing the cup into my hand. “I am so happy you are well again. So very--”
And then my father came into my room, muttering something about Lazarus.
This chapter should have been posted three weeks ago, considering I have already completed this story. I am so sorry for the delay. As you all know, this time of year is notorious for obnoxious research papers and finals. Please forgive my tardiness!
Chapter six is finished and should be up in two weeks. If you have a spare moment, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!