Warning: This story takes place in a time when women had no control over anything including their own bodies. They could not own property, vote, or serve in office. Most importantly to this story, legally there was no such thing as marital rape. Being married implied consent. This story touches on this dubious consent. Although today it is, rightly, considered rape, in that time it was not. The law was not changed in Canada until just after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) was enacted, in 1983. Please do not read this story if it will in any way make you uncomfortable or trigger a reaction. If this story offends you, I sincerely apologize.
Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
My disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. I do own a vivid memory of how cold the prairies can really get. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Winnipeg was −47.8 °C (−54 °F), on 24 December 1879 and the coldest since then was −45 °C (−49 °F) on 18 February 1966.* (wikipedia) I wasn't alive for either of those dates but I frozen my ass off just the same.
Beta writer/reader/guru/sensei: beachcomberlc
Pre-reader/great and all knowing OZ: SunflowerFran
Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1852
If it had not been for her aunt's sense of family, Isabella would have died shortly after her birth. The same birth that killed her mother. Her mother Marie was a simple-minded young girl who was seduced by a smooth talking French sailor on leave in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Marie had been working in the port city as a laundress. She had no idea that the relations she had had with her sailor would result in a child. When she was dismissed from her job for being a slattern, after losing her morning meal in a tub of clean clothing, one of the girls in her boarding house took pity on her and explained what was happening. She sold everything she could, save her body, and purchased rail travel back to Annapolis Royal on Nova Scotia's southern shore. Her father did not welcome her back with open arms, in fact, he had her mother strike her name from the family bible.
Her sister Renee took pity on her and, with her husband's permission, allowed her to live out her pregnancy at their home as long as she stayed out of view of society. Renee had married well to an English naval officer, Phillip Dwyer. He was not pleased with Renee's sense of charity but was well pleased with Renee. She had provided him a well cared for home and many lovely children. Renee had worked very hard to rid herself of all traces of her Acadian speech and she fit in well with all the other officer's wives. Marie helped take care of her sister's house for as long as she was able but gave birth to her daughter early and died of the effort. She did not even have time to name her child. Renee christened her Isabella after their maternal grandmother and raised her as best she could. Phillip refused to give the girl his name and as they did not know the name of the French sailor who fathered her, he opened the Bible, closed his eyes, pointed and found a surname for the little bastard. He giggled with delight when he read the name he had unconsciously chosen; Swan, an unclean bird from Leviticus 11:18. To him it seemed fitting.
Her aunt tried to give her as much love as she could but was hindered by Ship's Master Dwyer. He made sure that his children received the best of everything and if there was anything left over it could go to Isabella. Isabella fell directly in the middle of the family order. There were two boys and a girl, older than her and two girls and a boy younger. Isabella was eighteen months younger than her eldest female cousin.
Isabella's childhood was unremarkable. She ate, she slept, she worked, she learned. Most importantly, she obeyed. She knew no better than to obey. At the age of sixteen the eldest daughter was sent to finishing school to help her prepare to make a suitable marriage. So as not to impede his daughter's success Ship's Master Dwyer sat his wife down and informed her that he had secured a respectable position for Isabella. She would not be attending finishing school when she turned sixteen but would travel out west instead. He had everything arranged; Isabella would start her journey in the spring. She would be chaperoned on the almost three thousand mile journey in exchange for her services as a mother's helper. By the time she would arrive in Rupert's Land she would be sixteen and employed. Her gentleman employer was of very good reputation and had a stellar family.
Renee spent the winter teaching Isabella everything she could to help her in her new life as an Inn's housekeeper. As she was the only child in the household to have chores, Isabella was fairly adept at housekeeping. She learned her lessons quickly and well. Renee had a very frank and truthful lecture for Isabella about the ways between a man and his wife in the eventuality that Isabella found a husband. Renee did not want what happened to her sister to happen again. Braced with her new knowledge, her baggage, and a few coins, Isabella set off at the end of March. As prepared as she was for the adventure, Isabella was terrified. To be sent away from everything she had known to a very uncertain future brought a fear that plagued her nights.
Ship's Master Dwyer deposited her at the train station, briefly introducing her to the family she was to travel with. They were minor Russian aristocracy and believed themselves much better than everyone they had met in their new country. They had more money than sense and had chosen a travel plan that incorporated as many modes of transportation as possible. Isabella was treated as less than the lowliest of servants, given meagre rations and accommodations. When they travelled by rail she was made to sleep on the floor of the children's compartment. When they voyaged by water she was given no blankets as the Lady was chilled. When they travelled by carriage she was to ride with the driver in the open air. Over the months that it took to arrive in Rupert's Land, Isabella lost all of the slight plumpness of childhood and became nearly skeletal and drawn. There was no longer a rosy glow on her cheeks and her hair was limp and matted. Daily cold washings had left her clean but her skin was chafed and raw. She had left Nova Scotia a plain but pleasant-looking girl; she was that no longer. She was unceremoniously dropped off at the rail station in Fort Rouge with her baggage and two pounds sterling.
After getting directions to the Inn near Fort Garry, Isabella set off on foot to her new home. The air was hot and dry, completely different from the sea air she had grown up with. A fine layer of dust settled on her skin by the time she arrived at the Inn. A large sign proclaiming Inn at the Forks announced her arrival. The building was bigger than any she had ever seen and she wondered how she was to clean it all. Perhaps there would be another maid or two to help. She tried to brush the dust off her dress before walking into the main reception hall to find her employer. A cheery peal of bells sounded as she opened the door. The young man at the counter took in the sight of travel-weary Isabella and smiled at her. She walked to the desk and put her baggage on the floor.
"I am Isabella Swan. I'm to see Mr. Cullen."
The young man at the counter nodded and left the desk. He came back minutes later with a tall man, who had a look of consternation on his face.
"You are Isabella Swan?" Isabella nodded her head.
"This way." The man pointed to an open door just beside the desk.
"Get Weber." He said to the desk clerk.
Isabella picked up her bags and followed the tall man. He led her through a few hallways to the back of the Inn. He held a door open for her and motioned for her to go ahead of him. Once through the door he pointed to a smaller building set away from the Inn. It was a large carriage house with what looked like living quarters above. He led her again to a stairway up to the living area. When she opened the door she saw that it was a dwelling rather than the dormitory she was expecting. She looked around the sitting room just off the entry. It was well appointed and comfortable looking although it could do with a good cleaning. The tall man stood by the door with his back to her. She waited patiently for him to give her instructions.
"You are not what I expected." He finally said after a very lengthy pause.
"I'm sorry, Sir. It was a very taxing journey. If you could show me to my room I can clean up before meeting Mr. Cullen and starting my work as housekeeper." Isabella was exhausted but could rally her courage to begin her new life.
"I am Mr. Cullen. This is your new home, not your place of employment. You are here to become my wife, not my housekeeper." The tall man did not even turn to face her as he destroyed her every perception.
"My uncle said I was to be a housekeeper at the Inn. Not your wife." Isabella's voice shook with terror.
"Your uncle told me you were pretty; I guess he lied to us both. Here's the Minister. Just do as you are told, do you understand? Answer every one of his questions with an affirmative." The tall man finally turned and fixed her with a glare.
"Yes, Sir." Isabella obeyed.
He opened the door for the Minister and his wife, Mrs. Weber. He greeted both in a very friendly manner, showing them into the parlour, leaving Isabella to follow behind them.
Brief introductions were made before the marriage ceremony began. Isabella did as she was told and answered in the affirmative to every question posed to her. In short order she found herself married to a man whose first name she still did not know.
The Webers politely refused the offer of tea made to them as they had other social obligations. Isabella took their best wishes for her future with a small smile.
After showing the Webers to the door, Isabella's new husband turned and surveyed her for a long moment.
"Your room is the last one on the left down that hallway. Get yourself cleaned up and ready. I will be back in a few hours. I have much to talk to you about tonight." With a slight nod of his head he left her alone.
Isabella gathered her things and slowly walked to her new room. It was pleasant enough, a small bed with a white counterpane, a washstand, dresser and wardrobe. Thin lace curtains covered the window that looked out over the back of the property. The land was flat and rolling. It was entirely different from coastal views Isabella was used to seeing. There was a large vegetable garden and a copse of tall trees. So far the view was the most pleasing thing Isabella had encountered in her new life. She set about unpacking and arranging her belongings. She wandered into the kitchen to heat some water to bathe. The kettle was full but cold. After stoking the fire and warming the water she bathed, redressed and then waited for her husband to return. She waited for hours.
The sky was darkening when he finally returned. He shouted her name as he closed the front door as if he expected her to be waiting in the foyer for his arrival. She walked as quickly as she could to find him waiting for her in the parlour.
"Have you eaten?" He asked as he removed his coat.
"No, sir." Isabella could not bring herself to look him in the eye.
"Why not?" His voice was deathly quiet.
"You told me to get cleaned up and wait for you."
"Do you always do as you are told, Isabella?"
"Yes, sir." Isabella was starting to feel as though this was a test and she was failing it badly.
"That bodes well for you then. Sit." He walked over to a cart in the corner and poured two glasses of amber liquid. He downed one glass and refilled it. He passed the other glass to Isabella as he took a seat across from her. She didn't know what it was that he gave her; she had never had spirits before, not even wine with a special dinner.
He sipped at the second glass he had poured himself while carefully studying Isabella. She sat very still, almost petrified as she held her glass with both hands.
He sighed and put his empty glass down.
"I am not an easy man. I have many rules and I expect you to follow them. First and foremost is that you remember that you are married to me. Your loyalty rests with me and me alone. I will not have a flirt or a coquette for a wife. If you are caught engaging with another man, there will be hell to pay. Do you understand?"
"Until I can be sure of your behaviour you are to stay here at the carriage house and the garden behind it. You are not to enter the Inn for any reason other than someone's imminent death. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now, I wrote to my cousins in Nova Scotia to help me find a wife of good deportment, fair looks and health. Instead, they sent me you. I need a wife because I need an heir to secure the rest of my inheritance. I've not been pleased with any of the ladies here and families in the coastal regions tend to be large and hearty. You are in no way able to provide me with an heir in your current condition. You must do everything you can to regain your strength and health so that I may prosper. I will not visit you at night until you have gained weight and bled three times. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, sir." Isabella felt a prickle at the back of her eyes. She did not want to cry in front of this man.
"Drink that." He barked at her. She took a small sip. He glared at her until she took more. The liquid burned her throat and she had to stifle a cough.
"I paid for first class travel for you. How did you get into this condition? Did you sell the tickets to buy a trinket or something? It is obvious that you did not use it for clothing as your wardrobe is atrocious, from what I've seen of it. I will have to send away for better fabrics. You do sew, don't you?"
"Yes, sir, I sew. I wasn't given tickets, sir. I had to work for my passage as a mother's helper. They didn't allow for much food or rest, sir. I swear I didn't sell the tickets, sir, it's not my place to do so." The prickles in her eyes got bigger and stronger.
"Pretty words. I shall have to write back east to verify them. Do you cook?"
"I expect breakfast early, as the Inn is very busy. I will take my luncheon there, but I will want a light supper around this time every night. You will spend your time cleaning my home, tending the vegetable garden and sewing a new wardrobe. Isabella, I will be keeping a very sharp eye on you. Do not try to deceive me. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now finish that drink. It will help you sleep."
Isabella drank it as fast as she could. She struggled to keep it down. She was fairly certain that if it were to make a reappearance he would not be pleased.
"Go to bed. The rooster will wake you in time to make breakfast." And with that, she was dismissed. She rushed off to her room. Her head was swimming, her thoughts jumbled and confused. She lay on the bed and fell asleep in very short order.
The rooster was successful in its job of waking Isabella. She rose quickly despite the ache in her head and muscles. She dressed as fast as she could and rushed to find the kitchen unoccupied. She had no idea what the tall man ate for breakfast. She rummaged around for something acceptable. She found eggs, bread, potatoes and jam. It would have to do for now.
Breakfast was nearly ready when he entered the kitchen. His hair was damp and combed straight back. He looked freshly shaved. He nodded at her and took a seat at the table. The only time he spoke was for her to refill his teacup. After he had finished eating he folded his napkin and left the room. It was only then that Isabella noticed how much her hands were shaking. She let out a huge gust of air and relaxed.
As she ate her own breakfast, she studied the kitchen to see where best to begin. It was a surprisingly cheerful room. There were little touches around that made Isabella confused. This was not a bachelor's kitchen. This kitchen had been decorated by a woman and judging by the thin layer of dust covering the surfaces, had not been cleaned for some time.
Isabella spent her morning attacking the kitchen and her afternoon with war in the parlour. Teatime was spent in the garden looking over the produce. There were the makings of a very nice light supper and the promise of more to come. She filled the small basket she had brought with her. When she finished and stood to stretch her limbs, she noticed someone watching her from the barn area of the carriage house. It was a tall man, but not her tall man; this was a stranger to her. The instant he tipped his hat in greeting she grabbed her basket and ran as fast as she could up the stairs and into the house. She shut the door behind her and rested her back on it. She was scared. Would he think her a flirt if she had accepted the greeting of this stranger? He had said there would be hell to pay if he caught her. Should she tell him about the stranger to ward off any punishment he might have for her?
Isabella thought over all sorts of different possibilities and scenarios as she prepared his dinner. When she was ready, she went to wait in the foyer for his arrival.
Mr. Cullen was surprised to see his new bride waiting for him. He hadn't told her to do so and did not expect her to in the future. That first revelation from him calmed Isabella slightly. It gave her a glimmer of hope for when she told him about that afternoon. She waited until he was fed before she made the effort.
She was nervous as he ate. Thankfully he offered no conversation save for requests for more. When he had finished and sat back to relax she knew it was time.
"There was a man in the garden today. He noticed me." She stared at her hands in her lap.
"I am well aware. He told me himself." He stood up from his place at the table and looked down at her.
"Follow me," was his only demand before he walked out of the room. He led her down the hallway to one of the rooms Isabella had not entered or cleaned that day. He held the door open and waited for her to walk inside. It was his bedroom.
Isabella did not know what to think. If this was punishment, why take her to another room? What was he going to do to her in his room?
He did not shut the door behind him but walked a few feet into the room and pointed at one corner, near his washstand.
There was a large basket overflowing with clothing.
"I would like you to launder those tomorrow. The washtub in under the stairs, I'll bring it up for you. After that you can freshen up this room, change the bedding and dust. There is also a basket of mending in the wardrobe, you can finish those at your leisure. Go straight to bed when you finish in the kitchen." With that he walked out of the room.
If laundry was her punishment she was very relieved. She had expected much worse from this man who seemed to have no emotion other than anger.
The days continued. A routine was established. Every few days the tall man delivered a new task to keep his bride occupied. A large selection of fabric was brought to the carriage house and he suggested that she start with winter dresses as the weather was turning colder. Bushels of vegetables from neighbouring farms were brought for canning. Many different kinds of fruit were brought for jams and preserves.
Isabella was very busy. Busy, tired and lonely. The tall man only spoke about the jobs he had for her. He never asked after her, never bothered to learn anything about her. He never mentioned the work she had done, not even to say thank you. He never offered any information about himself either. She knew as much about him as she did the first day they were married. She knew not to seem idle, she knew not to ask questions and she knew that her time was running out.
Isabella had gained weight. Her health was much improved. Her hair had returned to lush, shiny mass that was the one tangible reminder she had of her aunt and former home. Her aunt's hair had the same colour and texture. She was stronger. She slept well and felt refreshed upon waking. She had bled twice and by her estimation was due to start again in a few days.
Four months to the day of their marriage he asked the question that sent a panic deep into the heart of Isabella. Over dinner and out of nowhere he asked if she had bled three times.
"When did you finish the last?"
"I'll see you in your room after your chores then. You know what is going to happen?"
That was all the conversation held. He finished his meal and left the table. Isabella cleaned the kitchen and got a few things ready for breakfast. She walked into her bedroom as a prisoner to the dock. She washed herself and put on her nightgown. She sat on the end of her small bed and waited for her husband. She ran the lecture she had received from her Aunt over in her mind.
The first time will most likely hurt her or at the very least be uncomfortable. If her husband was a kind man he would do what he could to make the experience less awkward. If her husband was not a gentle man then the most she could hope for was that it would be over quickly. It would not hurt as much any time after that. There would most likely be bleeding but do not be too alarmed. This was a natural part of life and the only way to have children. It was a wife's duty and burden to bear. Over time it will get better.
Isabella did not know enough about her husband to be certain if he would be kind or if he would not. She had no choice in the matter either way. She belonged to this man and he wanted, no, needed children. This was his sole reason for marrying.
Although she knew what she had to do she was still afraid. The pain was her biggest fear but she also feared giving this man she knew almost nothing about access to her unclothed body. She was certain she would disappoint him some how. Nothing she had done to date seemed to please him.
He did not knock on her door but he cleared his throat just before entering. Isabella stood while he entered her room. She kept her eyes trained on the floor. She heard him walk around to the other side of the bed and pull the coverings down.
"Lie down. On your back," he said to her, his voice had a slightly deeper timbre than usual.
Isabella obeyed. Just before she lay down she noticed a piece of flannel folded over itself across the middle of the bed. She shuddered to think what it was for. She kept her eyes closed. He stood at the side of her bed and looked at her for a long moment before he reached for the hem of her nightgown. With a surprising gentleness he raised her gown up to the middle of her thighs before placing one of his knees on the bed and crawling over her. He put one foot between her ankles and moved her legs apart just enough for him to kneel inside the space.
Isabella chanced a look at him then. She wanted to see what kind of look he had on his face; to see if he looked angry or malicious. It held neither. In fact, she could not identify the emotion that played across his face. She saw that he was wearing a nightshirt of blue cotton. She recognized it from the mending pile but could not recall ever washing it with the other laundry. When he started to lean forward over her she closed her eyes and waited.
He rested his weight on one arm next to her head. He seemed to be fiddling with something much lower, Isabella could feel his other arm brushing against her leg. He then pushed her legs open more and moved his hand to the top of her thighs. She jumped and whimpered when she felt his hand between her legs. He moved his fingers around, searching for something before he took a deep breath. Something started pushing into her. It was an odd sensation until it became a painful burning one. Isabella's whimpers became louder the more he pushed into her. He brought his free hand up and covered her mouth so that she couldn't scream. He entered her quickly then, stopping to rest inside her with his body flush to hers. He slowly removed his hand from her mouth and slid it under her shoulder. When he had her pinned in place he started to pull and push into her over and over again. It was still painful for Isabella but not as much as the initial breach. Soft groans and grunts were coming from his chest punctuating every thrust. The arm that had been beside her head moved and she felt him undo the buttons of her nightgown. He pulled the material to the side and uncovered one of her breasts. Her eyes flew open when he lowered his head and took her nipple in his mouth. He squeezed the breast firmly but not too hard. It felt almost pleasant for Isabella. The feeling distracted her a bit from what he was doing between her legs. She closed her eyes again. The grunts increased in volume as he increased the speed of his thrusting until he stilled. He released her breast and let out a loud moan. His body was rigid for a moment before he collapsed onto her chest. His breath was coming out in pants and he was slick with perspiration.
When he had calmed himself, he rose up again and she could sense him looking at her. She refused to open her eyes. A few tears had escaped and ran down her temples. She wanted to wipe them away but she was afraid that that would anger him. He backed away from her, slowly. She could feel that part of him slide out of her and she wondered what it looked like. It had felt absolutely enormous as it penetrated her but it seemed much smaller now. He rolled over and rested for a few moments before he stood up and walked to the door. He paused just as he opened the door. Isabella lay there with her eyes still closed. She thought she heard him say thank you very quietly before he left the room.
Isabella was unsure when she had fallen asleep. She had lain there feeling cold and sullied for a long time. She cried muffling her sobs with her fist. At some point in the night she had retrieved the blankets and covered herself. She woke up sore and very uncomfortable. As she rose from the bed she noticed the stain of blood on the flannel. There was, however, a small glimmer of hope in her waking. She thought, perhaps, that her husband, the tall man might become more favourable towards her now that she was able to fulfill one of the more important of her wifely duties. Maybe the pleasure he seemed to gain from her body would soften his demeanour.
She was wrong.
There was no change to his behaviour. He still barely spoke to her. He ate the meals she cooked and wore the clothes she tended. He visited her every night in her bed. After a few days she began to wonder if there was something she was doing wrong during his nightly visits. The time he spent in her room became longer and longer. He did not often take her breast in his mouth again as he had done that first night. Maybe he was not deriving all the pleasure he could and her comportment during his nightly visits was lacking. She resolved to try harder.
That night she tried to keep her eyes open to watch him. She noticed that he barely kept his eyes open either. When his thrusting became irregular and frantic she raised one hand and gently caressed the back of his neck at his hairline. He had such lovely coloured hair that was as soft as it looked. His eyes snapped open and he stared at her. It was as if he hadn't even noticed that she was there. There was a look of shock and surprise on his face. He finished quickly and then left the room as soon as he was able. She would not make that mistake again.
For a fortnight he visited her and then, with no warning he stopped. He left her alone for sixteen days before asking her if she had bled again. Feeling like a failure, she just nodded at him.
This became their new routine. He would come to her room nightly for just over two weeks and then stop. Just after she bled he would start again. There was no intimacy or affection. There were no recriminations or punishments. It was just that way. But he still whispered thank you every time.
Isabella was woefully unprepared for the harsh winter of the prairies. The dry cold that never left. The huge piles of snow that made it almost impossible to venture outside. Her hands became chapped and raw with her daily chores. Meals became monotonous with little variety in the offerings.
After four months of Isabella's continuing failure to become with child she felt defeated. She waited patiently for him to cast her out of the house or chastise her. She expected some sort of punishment for her failings. One day, a few months into their routine, he shattered all her illusions. Mid-afternoon, when she was elbow-deep in bread dough, she heard the front door slam so hard it rattled the dishes in the cupboards. She wiped her hands and carefully walked out into the hallway to see what was happening. She saw him, bottle in hand, just as he stumbled his way into his own bedroom. She was too frightened to ask what was the matter was. She listened from the safety of the kitchen as he stormed about his room. There were sounds of furniture crashing and glass shattering. He shouted words she did not understand or fully hear. After a while, a deathly silence came over the house. She continued with her chores, finishing the bread baking and preparing his dinner. It took her hours to gather up the courage to knock on his door and offer him his evening meal.
She barely recognized the man that answered the door. He looked crazed. She repeated her offer of food. He glared at her, swaying slightly on his feet. He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to her own bedroom. He flung her face first on to her bed and she stayed there not wanting to anger him further. She heard the sound of his belt opening and thought that it had finally reached the time for him to punish her. She thought he was going to beat her with his belt. He gathered the material of her skirts and hoisted them up and over her head revealing her drawers. She waited for the first blow. Instead of striking her, he abruptly left the room slamming the door behind him.
Isabella stayed in her room for two days, cowering on her bed until the smell from the chamber pot became unbearable. She had heard no noises in the house for several hours so she opened her door as quietly as she could and peeked out her head. When she didn't see him, she ran to the kitchen and out the back door. She emptied the pot and relieved herself in the outhouse before going back into his home. Dressed only in her nightgown and robe she felt as though she would freeze solid before entering the house. When she came back into the kitchen she gave a little scream of surprise at the sight of him sitting at the table. He hadn't been there when she ran out. The table was still set for the dinner neither of them ate.
"Please, Isabella. I won't harm you. Please sit." He slowly stood and gestured to her place at the table.
She put the chamber pot down, walked over to the sink and washed her hands in the now cold water that had been waiting for the dinner dishes. She sat in her place and kept her eyes on the plate in front of her. The food had dried and discoloured in the two days it sat on the table.
"I'm going to make tea," he said.
She listened to the sounds of him moving around the kitchen. She knew she should get up and make the tea herself, it was her job after all, but he had told her to sit and she did not want to anger him further. She jumped with fright when he reached over her to take the ruined dinner plate away. He put a tray piled high with a tea service and fresh sweet buns on the table and took his own seat.
"Please, eat. I got them from the cook at the Inn. I know you must be hungry. Would you like some tea?" He spoke so gently, so calmly, but it did nothing to chase away her fears.
"Yes, sir," she finally managed to say out loud after whispering it twice.
He put sugar and milk into both cups he had brought to the table and carefully poured the steaming hot tea over them. He slid one cup over to her before placing two of the sweet buns on a plate and sliding that over too. He sat back in his chair with his own teacup and waited.
Isabella let her thirst and hunger get the better of her senses. She drank the tea quickly, savouring it's warmth. She picked at the sweet, sticky bun. She was in no hurry to engage her husband in conversation. He sat drinking his own tea and watching every move she made. When finally he could wait no longer, he cleared his throat and sat up straight in his chair.
"If you will permit me, I'd like to speak with you about a few things, Isabella."
Isabella let her hands drop to her lap, her meal forgotten despite her hunger. This was it; this was the time when he told her he had no more use for her. She would be turned out to the streets and forced to survive on her own. Perhaps she could find work and lodging somewhere nearby. She couldn't go back to Nova Scotia. The travel expense was too dire and she wasn't sure her family would take her back now that she was a fallen woman.
"Yes, sir." She waited.
"I owe you an apology. In fact, I owe you much more than that, Isabella. I know no way to repay or repair the damage I have done to you, except for a paltry apology. Please, Isabella. I am so sorry for what I have done to you."
Her head snapped up and she looked her husband in the eye for the first time in months. His face held a look of sincere pain and torment.
"I can only offer you excuses for my behaviour and pray that you can find it within yourself to eventually forgive me. If you feel you cannot, well, I am not sure what can be done then but I will find a solution. I was blinded, deceived and lied to. I took my anger out on you. I told you the day we wed that I was not an easy man. I used to be; a few years ago I was a good, kind man who loved to laugh. When I first arrived here and bought the Inn I was happy. My business was successful and with the urging of my family I started to look for a wife. My grandfather's will demanded I be married and have an heir to fully inherit. But more than that, I wanted someone to share my life with."
He stopped speaking and collected his thoughts.
"It was mid summer, a few years ago that I first met Mary Alice. Her father was leading an expedition up the Red River from the Mississippi River. It had taken them much longer than they had planned so they decided to explore the area. They stayed here, of course, because we are so close to where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers cross. It was as if lightening had struck me when I first saw her. She was lovely, like a little porcelain doll. She had the most delightful way of speaking. We fell in love. We were so happy. She agreed to be my wife and her father allowed the match. She helped decorate this carriage house to be our home."
He looked around the room. There were still little touches of Mary Alice here and there. He just then realized that there was nothing of Isabella in this room, or in the entire house. She had not changed even the smallest of objects. When she cleaned she made certain to put everything back in it's original place lest he notice. It pained him to have proof of just how downtrodden she was and it was all his fault.
"Unfortunately she contracted Yellow Fever in a small outbreak and she was too small and frail to survive it. I was devastated. I wallowed in self-pity for months before my family pushed me to get settled. I hadn't the heart to woo a woman or court her. My cousin suggested that perhaps an arranged marriage would be best. I could find a wife and learn to love her over time. He knew your uncle had a daughter that was of marrying age. He said she was pretty, healthy and from a large family.
"I wrote to your uncle but he refused the idea of marriage to his daughter, he suggested you instead. He said you were almost as pretty, a little bit younger but better suited to colonial living and more accomplished in domestic duties. I agreed and sent ample money for your passage. The day before you were to arrive, a letter came from your uncle. It was horrible and hateful. I'll spare you the details." He paused to pour another cup of tea.
"Don't," Isabella said, surprising them both.
"No more tea?" He looked at her, puzzled for it was the first time she had said anything other than 'yes sir' in months.
"Please, sir, don't spare me the details." She did not know where she got the courage to speak. She wanted to know what her uncle had said to make this man treat her so badly. She wanted to know what crimes she was being punished for unjustly. She knew her uncle never liked her. He had no use for her, she had overheard him and her aunt arguing about her a few times before.
"If you are sure?" He sighed. She only nodded her head.
"He said now that you were out of his house he could safely tell me what kind of woman you were. He said it was too late to back out of the agreement and that I had already paid for you. He said that you were an incorrigible flirt to the point where he wasn't certain that you were pure. He said you stole money from him, tormented his children and wife, that you were lazy and willful. He said that he caught you drinking his spirits. He said that they were well rid of you."
He told her everything, knowing how much it would hurt her. It would hurt her almost as much in the hearing of it as it did him in the telling.
"Due to the things he said about you, I decided that I would meet the train and send you back. But your train was early and my desk clerk knew I was awaiting my bride when you showed up here. He was sure to tell everyone and I was trapped. Trapped and very angry. I had to marry you to save face and so I did. You arrived here looking like death was chasing you; you were so thin. It made you very unattractive.
"After we had been married I went back to my office at the Inn and I formulated a plan. I was determined to mould you into a proper wife. To keep you away from other men. To break your spirit. As well, I still needed an heir. I thought that waiting three months could prove that any child born would be mine."
He stopped for a moment to drink more tea.
"When I came back home and discovered you waiting patiently, still hungry from your travels but obedient, I wondered just how much I had been deceived. I laid down my rules. I was deliberately rude to provoke you. I gave you Brandy to drink and it was obvious you had never touched spirits before. All you ever said was 'yes, sir'.
"I asked one of the grooms to spy on you so I could catch you flirting. However, you ran from him and told me immediately. I gave you more work than I thought possible for one woman to do and you did it all with out complaint. You took care of my home, my clothes, and my meals. You never asked for anything, not even my attention. I wrote to my cousin and asked him to find the truth. I decided to keep to my plan until I heard back from him."
Isabella wondered why, if she had done everything correctly as he ordered, he still insisted on punishing her for the lies of someone else.
He saw her as she seemed to retreat more and more into herself. It was as if she was shrinking before his eyes. He ran his hands through his hair, pulling it slightly to feel a little pain. The sharp ache in his scalp did not have any redemptive value for him. He soldiered on with his story.
"In the meantime, you blossomed. You gained weight and became very pretty. Your hair is your crowning feature but your face and figure, well, you are a very attractive girl, Isabella. I found it hard to resist you. When I knew you had bled three times and could not be with another man's child, the rest of my plan went into action."
He stood up and started pacing across the kitchen.
"I came to your room and found you to be pure. I had been treating you so poorly even when I found that most of the things your uncle accused you of were false. I felt wretched, but I needed a child and you are my wife. I justified my actions by thanking you. I thought that once an heir was born I would leave you alone. But month after month there was no baby and I was losing hope.
"The other day, I finally received word from my cousin. He said Dwyer lied about everything. He spoke to Dwyer, threatened him actually, to get the truth. Your uncle was angry with you because his daughter had accepted the hand of a man he deemed unworthy of her position. He said that raising you lowered his family's standing. Dwyer took the money I sent for your passage and made you work off your fare. Dwyer has lost his position at the shipyard and has taken to the bottle. Your aunt and cousins have left him. They are safe with her parents."
He paused again and noticed the tears on her cheeks. He longed to wipe them away but he knew he had yet to earn the right to touch her again. There was much more he had to tell her.
"So I grabbed the nearest bottle and tried to drown myself in alcohol. When you knocked on my door I was still so angry, with myself for believing the lies and with him for the lying. You stood outside my door looking so lovely but concerned for me. I did not deserve your concern. I had already destroyed my bedroom and I was afraid that I would destroy you too. I had to get you away from me but when I saw you lying on your bed, well, my thoughts were not gentlemanly. I started to-I wanted to. It was as if my vision was shrouded. I was going to do horrible things to you before I came to my senses and ran out of the room.
"He lied to me and I believed him. I treated you horribly for no reason. If I had just spoken to you, trusted you, we could have been happy by now. But you are terrified of me. I can see it. I am so sorry, Isabella."
He stopped his pacing and fell to his knees in front of her. He reached for and took hold of both her hands.
"Please help me, Isabella. Even though I've been a horrible husband, you are still my wife and I still need you. I promise I will change. I promise to be kind and gentle. I promise to be a better man, one that could, possibly be worthy of you. I would like to get to know you. To perhaps build a proper marriage between us. To try. Please say you'll let us try, Isabella."
Epilogue Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada 1879
The very portly midwife gently passed the well-wrapped infant to his waiting father. The tall man glowed with pride.
"Hello, son," he whispered as he stroked one downy cheek.
"And a fine boy he is, sir." The midwife laughed at the man.
"My wife?" he asked with a look of concern on his face.
"Isabella is just fine, sir, a little tired. So, what is the little man's name?" The tall man relaxed, relieved to find his beloved wife well.
"Well, we named our first son after my cousin, who helped us a great deal. And the second after my father, of course. The girls both have their own names, not family names. But this one gets my name, isn't that right, Junior?" he said as he swayed, holding tightly to his son.
AN: This was, is my entry in the Caveat Emptor: Maybe an HEA contest. There is not a chance in hell this story would ever have been read by or accepted by those who ran the contest without beachcomberlc. She took my clumsy words and polished them, she removed all of my extra useless commas and helped me get over my phobia of semi-colons. She put up with my oddities and I am forever grateful. I've tried very hard to leave her alone and not harass her too much but no that the contest has ended... If this story is expanded and turned into a multi-chapter fic it will be because beachcomberlc is willing to put up with me again. Maybe if we all send her chocolate she'll agree?
After beach worked her magic, I sent the story to SunflowerFran to pre-read. She offered her wisdom and I thank her for it on bended knee.
Much to my surprise, this story won third place judges vote and Jonesn's pick. If I had known who the other entrants were, I would never had entered. To be up against such big talents and names is terrifying. A well deserved congratulations to everyone who entered the contest.
Thank you to everyone who volunteered to beta for me. It makes my heart sing to have so many willing, helpful people in my life.