Bella watched as Jacob righted himself when the horses began their clomping steps and turned his leering gaze to her. "What do we have here?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows at the younger girl.
In the darkened interior of the carriage's cab, Bella strained to find something other than the rakish young man before her.
"Can a girl not be escorted home by friends of the family?" she asked, as her companion tossed his wide brimmed hat across the space onto her bench.
"Hardly." He spat out the window. Adjusting the collar of his linen shirt, he untied the cravat in a barrel shape knot under his chin. His long tapered fingers undid the patterned fabric and slung the tie out like a whip, allowing it to land on the bench next to his hat.
"Miss Swan, if I may be so forward…"
"You may certainly not," Bella shot back averting her eyes to the window. She would rather look at the landscape draped in the shadows of night than to sit idly by talking to Jacob Black.
"I think you forget yourself, Bella." Jacob's eye brows raised.
"No, Master Black. I believe it is you who have forgotten himself." Bella turned from the passing land to level her glare at her companion. The Blacks were relatively new to town but integrated themselve into society quickly as they bought up many of the land deeds.
Gossip had flooded the town the week after they moved into the estate on the far side of the Ferta. (see below) It was said that William Black's father had made his fortune in the America's before the Revolution. It was during his times in the States that he had come to spend some time with its native people during a hunting expedition to Northern Maine. The fruits of his union with one female member was the gentleman before Bella, one Jacob Black.
Gentleman. Bella couldn't think of a more ridiculous and inaccurate term for the man.
His dark features contracted with her words and a large palm found the few lengths of russet hair which had worked free from a leather tong at his nape. Almost the same color and length as Bella's, Jacob's hair held none of the brilliant highlights and reminded her of mud in her father's fields after a long rain.
"You call me Bella, Master Black. No one but my family and friends may call me that."
"As you wish, Miss Swan," he enunciated the final words with a sneer on his lips.
Silence lapsed between them for the span of a heart beat. "You never answered my question."
"I do not recall hearing your question, Master Black. Though, I do wonder if often you speak just to hear your own voice ring in your ears," Bella shot back, starting out the window once again. The carriage had made the turn from the Barr na Straid to the back road over the mountain. The horses were free to move at a brisk pace and the coachman soon had them stretching their legs.
"Pardon me," Jacob said, folding his hand in his lap. "Maybe you mistook my question before but I believed I asked you about your finery. Have you had your hand in the coffers?"
She had forgotten the beautiful dress and the care Alice had taken with her hair.
"I'll have you know, Master Black, that this ensemble was a present from Mr. and Mrs. Masen. Miss Alice Masen brought it all the way from Dublin." The nerve of that Jacob Black to question the integrity of her clothing. How dare he suggest that she had stolen money from the church to purchase them?
Her family was not well to do, under any circumstances, but she would never sink as low as to steal from the church? Right now, under his scrutiny, she felt as small as a mouse.
"It was a Christmas present," she whispered as her family's farm house came into view.
Jacob's attention was drawn to the window, surveying the land under his father's ownership. "I'm sure," he muttered, distractedly. "I see your father hasn't planted the potato crop, yet."
"He has, I assure you, in the back pasture. This field was used twice last year. Father says it was over worked and needs time to replenish before …"
"He's letting good crop space go to waste. Father will have none of this." The instant the carriage halted, Jacob was out the door and heading for the house. Bella stood at the opening agape. No one offered her assistance down so she jumped the five feet to the dirt drive below.
Before she could reach the house, the door flew open and Charlie stood before her. "Bella, darling, I need you to milk the cow. The chore slipped my mind."
Wise to her father, she knew she was being shooed away from the house where Jacob waited to speak to him. She was never allowed around when they discussed the business of the farm.
Bella rolled her eyes, sarcasm filling her voice as she mimicked her father's voice. "Why Bella, don't you look splendid. I know you had a marvelous time at the Masens'. Five proposals of marriage just this evening? Perfect." Her mocking aside, she strode to her father and planted a kiss on his ruddy cheek.
"I will milk Jess, Pa. I must change first. Miss Masen presented me with a gift before dinner. I feel like a princess," she said stepping into the house as her last word caught in her throat.
Jacob was sitting on her bed.
"If you don't mind, I must change," Bella asked him, moving the worn wooden screen between the men and her sleeping area. "It seems the cow needs milking."
"Then, by all means, have at her," Jacob's deep voice instructed. He lifted his ample frame from the girl's bed and moved around the screen to sit at the table before the fire.
"I don't know how you do things in America, or England for that matter, Master Black," Bella acknowledged from her hiding spot as she slipped free from her dress and slung it above the top of the divider. "But, here in Ireland, we don't commonly muck about in the shed or fields in our Sunday bests."
Charlie worked hard to press down a guffaw as Bella drew herself back around the screen, moving it once again to its place against the wall where shadows danced in the light from the fireplace.
She folded the beautiful blue dress before placing it in a wooden trunk at the base of her bed. Following her path back out of the cottage, Bella kissed Charlie's cheek and gave the trunk, and her dress within, a final wistful glance before heading for Jess's cow stall.
She hadn't made it five steps before Jacob's voice sounded in the night. "I would have taught that chit some manners by now, if I were her father."
"Yes, well …" Charlie cleared his throat. "Nonetheless, how may I help you Mr. Black?"
Bella walked on, not wanting to hear her father and his landlord's son bickering over land, rent, and goods.
At the mouth of the cow stall, Bella took down the hanging lantern and struck a flint at the base. The wick caught and lit up the sleeping cow. "Jess, did Pa milk you?" Bella asked the snoring cow as she walked around her pen looking for the empty milk can. It was conspicuously absent.
"Because, it's inside next to the stove filled with the milk from dinner, isn't it?" she asked. From the hay at the cow's side a soft snuffle emerged.
"Tyler," Bella called to the terrier, whose head emerged from the straw. "How was your day, fine sir?"
Tyler yawned and stretched his lean legs as he pulled himself free from the cow's bedding.
"Well, that sounds like fun," Bella responded to their imaginary conversation. Pulling her skirts high, she plopped down into the scratchy, hay-strewn lawn.
The dark light of evening pressed upon her. Tyler drew himself next to her legs and pulled himself into her lap. Petting the dog, she closed her eyes to the night noises around her. The soft murmur of the cow, Tyler's snuffing, Mike's occasional braying from his donkey shed, and the thickening chirps of the crickets announcing the coming summer months wrapped themselves around her.
"My day?" she answered Tyler's unasked question. "Well, I do believe that Emmett may hold a fancy for me. Alice gave me a fine dress of beautiful blue silks. Oh, and the gentleman doctor who set my arm last night? He is none other than Edward Masen, Alice and Emmett's brother."
Bella paused a moment to listen for the masculine voices floating on the air. Satisfied, she turned back to the sleep fox terrier. "He's just come back from Dublin. Alice says he's been studying to be clergyman. Maybe all priests have to learn a bit of doctoring?" she wondered aloud. "It was a lovely dinner though."
Bella's musing turned inward as she listened to her father's voice murmuring in the night. She had almost drifted off to sleep in the cow stall when the night's darkness was pierced with a shaft of light from the house.
The door swung closed again and Bella stood as the coachman urged the horses to move.
Inside the house, Charlie sat at the table rolling a cup back and forth on its edge. "Pa?"
At the sound of her voice, he flinched. "Oh, Bella." He stood and moved to hug the girl. "Tomorrow, I will need your help planting the fields."
Bella pulled back from his embrace to look at his face. "But…"
"I know you're injured but we've got to get a crop in the ground before Mr. Black calls our debts due." He smoothed down the unruly curls around her crown. His daughter had turned into a beautiful woman and he hadn't even noticed. "I'm sorry, Bella."
"For what, Pa?" she asked, confused.
"For everything. Because we never had the things Alice did. Because of your Ma," he sighed. "But, mostly, because I'm afraid of what might be coming on the horizon. Half of the crop is already molding in the fields and the other is already promised to the Blacks."
"We'll make due, Pa," she said kissing his cheek again. The bitter scent of spirits tickled her nostrils and she pulled back. "Have you been drinking?" she asked.
"Only a glass with Master Black," he said trying to find his seat again. He stumbled before finding the chair.
"Oh," she said eyeing the empty bottle of whiskey next to the hearth. "Just a glass?"
Charlie's eyes followed her as she moved across the dimly lit room, her feet barely making a sound as she padded across the flagstaff flooring. "And, would this be the bottle of Jameson's Mr. Masen gave to you for the Beltane two springs ago?"
Charlie's head nodded, his eyes remaining closed.
"The same bottle that had remained unopened a top the mantle just this morning?" she asked with the same accusatory tone in her voice?
He nodded pulling himself up once more. Losing his balance, Bella moved to catch him before he toppled into the fire. "To bed with you."
Helping him free of his boots, Bella swung her father's leg onto his cot and covered him from the night's chill.
Changing out of her clothes into her night frock, Bella splashed water from the wash bowl across her face. Moving around the cottage, she shuttered the windows, barred the door from highway men and bandits, and snuffed out the candle before climbing into her bed.
Under the blue-black haze of the moonlit night, Bella dreamed in the dark hours of the night and the still hours of the morning. She dreamed of her own farm where she raised lamb and grew potatoes and corn. She dreamed of her mother, of her father, and of her friends. She dreamed of her Ireland.
The cockerel coo-ca-cooed at the sun's fingers as they caressed the land, warming the grass of the mountains before spilling into the Atlantic. Rising early on five hours of sleep, Bella stoked the dying embers of the fire. Waking Charlie, they ate their meager breakfast before hitching up Mike to the donkey cart and heading for the fields.
Each day she hoped that her arm healed by degrees. She did not have full movement of her shoulder and it was impossible to lift the sacks for planting. Her fingers were numb but not unusable that she needed to complain to Charlie.
As the week passed, Bella's arm felt worse. When she moved, the bone would creak in the socket. She could hardly lift the kettle to pour out her father's tea and the muscles had begun to twitch without provocation.
Late Saturday afternoon, Bella was walking with Mike, a plow harness tight about his neck when a hare chased by a red fox bolted from the brambles that ringed their south field. Spooking, Mike rose up and yanked hard on the reins that Bella held. Running as if chased by Hellhounds, the donkey took off for the donkey shed leaving Bella in a heap by the field's edge.
Once more, pain speared her. She struggled to remain conscious as the world tilted and then corrected itself. She emptied her stomach as a wave of nausea rolled through her. "Bella?" Charlie yelled from the farmhouse.
"Pa, can you fetch Master Masen?" Bella plead. She was able to lift herself from the ground and limped the distance to the house.
"Should I get Doc …"
"No," Bella stopped him. "Get Master … get Edward Masen. He fixed it last time."
"But he's no …"
A knock sounded at the door, cutting Charlie's protestations off.
"Mr. Swan, I was coming to check on Bella's progress when I found your donkey wandering by the pass," a dulcet tone said. "This is your Mike, is it not?"
"It is. Thank you, Edward."
"Edward!" Bella shouted from behind the screen that Charlie had erected to hide her bed from the front door.
"Miss Swan?" A feral gleam over took the softness of his emerald eyes. "Is there a problem?"
"I was just coming to get you, actually," Charlie explained. "Bella's arm is worse."
"How?" he asked, pushing passed the father and storming into the cottage. Making short work of the screen, Edward pulled up a warped wooden seat from the table. "Where?"
"My shoulder," Bella hissed as Edward began to feel the length of her arm. "Mike pulled the reins. I fell on it."
"What were you doing working?" he asked Bella. She turned her face away from him, embarrassed that she had deliberately ignored his orders. "Why was she working?" he directed his question towards Charlie.
"I … I" he stammered.
"He needed my help," she confessed. "He couldn't do the fields alone. And the Blacks..."
"Bella," Charlie growled. She should have known better than to speak of family business around strangers.
Edward nodded, taking in their conversation. "Alright, it seems as if you've dislocated it, again. This is going to hurt. Can you take it?"
Bella nodded, waves of her hair breaking free of their mooring and tumbling into her eyes. Edward pushed them back with his soft fingers. Where he touched, her skin burned.
He took hold of her hand as if he wished to shake on an agreement. Before moving, his eye met hers and he whispered his apology. "I'm sorry, Bella."
With a twist and a tug, Edward felt the bone slip back into the shoulder socket. Bella's scream of pain lanced through his heart into his very core. A light sheen coated her brow and pooled at her temples.
"I'd give you morphine, Miss Swan, if I had some with me. But, as I do not, I would suggest a glass of whiskey to dull the pain," he instructed.
"Thank you," Bella said, her voice petering out. "Thank you."
"No more work for you," he said again. "Mr. Swan, why don't you show me the field where she was working?" Edward asked as Bella began to drift off.
"I don't see as how that would help?" Charlie said, rubbing the back of his neck with his callused palm.
"I do." He wanted to get Charlie alone so he could talk to him out of Bella's hearing.
The two men walked out into the farmyard. Mike wandered between the vegetable patch and the cow stall as chickens pecked at the worms that came out to enjoy the cool air of late afternoon.
"Please explain to me why Bella has been working in the field when she should be abed, healing?" Edward asked pinching the bridge of his nose.
"That's family business, sir," Charlie answered, catching the donkey's rope and tugging him to the shed.
"I might hazard a guess that the Blacks don't think you are tending their land well?" Edward asked. He pushed the door to the enclosure shut and brushed the rust from the latch off his palms.
"You might hazard correctly," Charlie admitted.
"They are forcing you to plant more crops than the land can handle?" Edward asked. Not truly a man of agriculture, Edward was a quick study and had been helping his own father with his holdings.
"No," Charlie hesitated. "It's just … The Blacks insist that we work all of their land, even fields that should be resting this season. That south field will produce nothing but mush. The soil is overworked. It will not produce. I have been given a choice: plant the fields and give seventy-five percent of crop to the Blacks or they will call for something I am not willing to give."
"And that is?" Edward asked.
Continuing as if he hadn't heard the younger man's question, Charlie kicked a rotting stump. "I'll be lucky if I get two hundred bushels of potato this year. Five years ago, I had to send out for help from the neighboring village to harvest my crop. Now, with this blithe … three of my four fields were completely rotted last year."
"Aye, the blithe," Edward nodded his head in agreement. The disease was ravaging Ireland, stripping the land of a major food source, leaving the crop molding and rotten in the field. "What were they demanding that you are not willing to give?"
Charlie looked back towards the modest cottage, his eyes hooded in shame. "Bella."
So, the Blacks wanted another servant in their household was it? Edward couldn't see the tenacious girl settling for that.
"Mr. Swan, I will be heading to the port in Cork to pick up a shipment for my father. If it would please you, sir, I would like to ask Bella to accompany me. I have a doctor friend who specialized in conditions and disease of the muscles. I would like him to look over Bella's shoulder."
Charlie considered Edward's offer before agreeing. "Wednesday morning we leave," Edward finished, shaking Charlie's hand. "Just to be sure that she will be fine for the night, I would like to check her once more."
List of Places:
The Ferta – river that bisects the town of Cahirciveen. One side is made up of the town proper including the docks, church, many of the residences and shops. The other side (which is reached by a bridge) is larger in size and includes the White Strand (a beach of pearl white sand), the cemetery, an ancient Celtic fort and a ruined castle. The river runs out to the Atlantic Ocean.