Disclaimer: Bleak House is not mine although I wish it were. This story offers an alternate ending to Dickens' tale. It may be safe to say however that I'm big on Lady Dedlock and her journey. :o) :o) Written ages ago and without a proof reader, this is a repost from LJ (from back in the days when BH was aired).
Esther was sitting at the cemetery gate for endless minutes, gathering her mother in her arms. She feared her to be dead. Tears fell from her eyes and she whispered silent prayers over her mother's weak body. Mr. Woodcourt knelt down beside her and felt My Lady's pulse. It was faint, but it proved her Ladyship to be alive. However barely. Mr. Woodcourt gave Esther a silent smile and convinced her to loosen her fearful embrace. Her tears never drying, she still held her mother's hand when Mr. Woodcourt carried her exhausted body to the Dedlock townhouse. She was gravely ill. She was deadly pale. She was disturbingly quiet.
Inspector Bucket had sent a note to Chesney Wold to inform Sir Leicester about the detection of her Ladyship's weak figure. They awaited an answer any minute now that My Lady lay ill for two days already. She tossed and turned in her sleep, she fought a severe fever and did not utter a single word.
On the third day, she woke to the first sunlight of the day. Her fever had gone down and her colour slowly returned to her graceful cheeks. Her eyes were gray though, still. Although a stranger might never have detected the slightest shift in her Ladyship's composure, Esther was aware of it the second she met her mother's eyes. She was still weak but seemed to realize where she was bedded. She tried to get up but her proud will lost the struggle against her strained body. Being the honorouble woman that she was, she did not even exhale a painful sigh at the feeling of her hurting bones and pounding head. She closed her eyes for the slightest of moments, wrinkling her forehead the tiniest bit and controlled her uneasiness within a second. She was still the formidable Lady Dedlock. Esther held her hand and tried to express her sorrow and the happiness over her mother's recovery, but the words failed her and she could only look at her with a tired smile. She had sat with her every minute of the past days. She had refused to eat or drink or leave her side. The only distraction she had allowed herself was talking to Mr. Woodcourt, Mr. Jarndyce or Inspector Bucket about the improvement of her mother's state of health. They had been most encouraging.
Seeing the struggle of emotions in her mother's eyes, she reached for the note Inspector Bucket had just recently collected from Chesney Wold. It simply read Full Forgiveness. It was Sir Leicester's hand, however weak. Lady Dedlock allowed a tear to run down her delicate cheek at the sight of her husband's message. She struggled with the wave of emotions that awaited to overcome her, but she was strong enough to hold it back until Esther confided her in on her husband's condition and his immediate reaction to forgive her. However self-restrained, haughty, controlled, proud or strong-willed My Lady used to be, there was not a sparkle left of it for the minutes she allowed herself to feel the whole amount of sorrow, pain, relief, shame and love. She buried her face in her daughter's lap and cried the bitter tears she had hidden for too long a time.
Esther tried to soothe her, caressing her wavy long hair while remaining speechless and calm. When she found the courage to speak, her mother raised her head, choking down the tears she had left. She did not intend to lose her composure entirely and forced her feelings of distress to the back of her mind.
Esther, admiring her mother's strength, spoke silently, "You will be able to return to Chesney Wold whenever you are prepared to leave. Mr. Woodcourt is most pleased with your recovery."
Lady Dedlock closed her darkened eyes for an instant before she answered all so sternly, "I could not return to Chesney Wold. I could not bring disgrace to the house of Dedlock."
"But Sir Leicester was most insistent about his wish for you to return to him," Esther answered with a careful smile, taking her mother's shaking hands into hers.
"He is not well, my child. So you told me yourself. I could not face him, the unworthy creature that I am," My Lady answered with a slightly trembling voice, her eyes fixed on her daughter's hands. "How could I destroy his family's name, ruin his reputation? After all the generosity he has showered upon me since he first laid eyes on me?"
Another tear ran down My Lady's cheek and she bit her lip to suppress a desperate sob. Esther bowed her head to the intensity of her mother's feelings and caressed her hands with her thumbs.
"If you allow me for the shortness of our being together to call you mother, I can only suspect that you are acting out of respect and deep love for Sir Leicester."
Lady Dedlock inhaled sharply to suppress another sob and raised her head to meet her daughter's gaze. She bowed her head. Looking into her mother's darkened blue eyes, Esther began to understand the restrictions she had forced upon herself. She saw the lonely road she had chosen to save her husband from distress, and she saw the emotions that reassured her of the righteousness of her path. She began to understand how impossible it was for her mother to face her dear husband as the disgraceful and shameful being she had turned out to be after he had celebrated her sacredness for so long a time. She agreed to hand her a piece of paper to answer My Lord's loving note, allowing her to choose the right words in solitude. My Lady needed some time before she had formed the right words in her head to bring them down on the sheet of paper in her usual graceful hand.
My dear Leicester,
I cannot believe the generosity of your efforts to find me. I can only suspect the reasons behind this gesture, and I hope you will understand when I judge them wasted.
I could not accept your offer to risk your family's honour for saving me from disgrace. Your family's name has always been so important to you. I would not want to ruin your reputation, even though I am deeply honoured and filled with gratitude.
Sir Leicester was lying on his bed in the master's bedroom, thinking of My Lady's secret and distress. His state of health had improved at the news of his wife's discovery, but he still feared for her life. He knew her to be an honourable woman, a proud and strong-willed Lady. She had fled Chesney Wold to spare him from pain. She had always tried to spare him from distress or sorrow or discomfort.
He had suspected her to hide something from him that might cause him uneasiness, but he would never have suspected her to be personally involved. He had sensed her tension, her stiffness over the past months. He was used to seeing her bored or lost in thoughts. He was even used to her being indifferent or restraint, but she was always caring and tender to him. She never allowed herself to be inattentive or careless about him. She always gave him the tiniest of smiles when he needed one or brushed her genteel fingers ever so lightly against his hands. She was able to show him so much gratitude with only the bowing of her beautiful head, and she would uplift his mood on the stormiest and coldest of days.
He began to wonder why he had not asked her about her change of mood. He had been worried though, of course, for he cared deeply for her Ladyship. He was in love with her, still, after all this time. Or even more so if he was honest. The way she graced him with her love, with her support, with her attention. Of course, he liked the turning heads when she entered a room, the whispers of admiration and envy behind their backs when they passed a crowd. He loved her even more when they were alone. She could be haughty, no doubt, but never deprecatory. She chose her interests carefully. She was charming but witty, and she was considerate.
He remembered her hasty lines of adieu and closed his eyes to picture her pretty face next to him when Mrs. Rouncewell approached him silently.
"Sir Leicester, if you please, Inspector Bucket has just arrived to deliver this note and the latest news on My Lady."
Sir Leicester opened his eyes and thanked his housekeeper for the note, asking her to give him a moment before she would show the Inspector in. He carefully opened the sealed note and exhaled the pain he felt at the sight of her loving words. He reached for a sheet of paper, spontaneously forming his thoughts into words for My Lady to read.
My dearest Honoria,
I am deeply shaken to understand that you believe that anything could be more important to me than your well-being. I do not seem to have been able to let you know how deeply I care for you, my love. There has never been anything dearer to me than your society. I hope you will allow me to assure you of my dedication for I am certain of your love.
Inspector Bucket waited in My Lady's room. He had just returned from Lincolnshire with Sir Leicester's latest instructions concerning her Ladyship's flight. He bowed his head at the sight of Miss Esther Summerson and handed her Sir Leicester's latest note.
"I understand that My Lady Dedlock won't see anybody else but you at present, Miss Summerson?"
Esther nodded and asked the Inspector to sit with her. "Is there any news about Sir Leicester's state of health?"
"Yes, Miss Summerson. The Baronet is recovering fast. But not as fast as he would with My Lady's care as his housekeeper Mrs. Rouncewell so gallantly put it."
"Well, Mr. Bucket, I will see that her Ladyship will receive Sir Leicester's message now," Esther answered thoughtfully. "I am afraid though that she might not intend to encumber him again."
Inspector Bucket cleared his throat. "Miss Summerson, if you allow me to be so free, I hope you will be able to convince your mother of her exceptional position in the house of Dedlock. If you please, I would assure her Ladyship of the safety of your common secret."
Esther answered him with a polite smile. "I am most grateful for your faithful attempts to help my mother. I hope you understand that we better not mention your insight into her past. Being the honourable woman that she is, I know she prefers not to know who has learned about our secret."
"I understand," Inspector Bucket replied with a polite smile. Having met Lady Dedlock under most distressing circumstances, he was well aware of her way to distance herself from judgment. She had appeared to be indifferent and cold to him at first, but he had soon revised his hasty opinion on her Ladyship. He even began to appreciate her considerate detachment and thoughtfulness.
"Good day then, Miss Summerson. And please send my compliments to My Lady Dedlock."
"I will, Mr. Bucket. Thank you. Good day."
Esther watched the Inspector leave the room before she got up herself to see her mother in the mistress' bedroom. She smiled at the sight of her mother's sleeping figure on the big bed. She looked better than only a couple of days before, but she was still pale and struggled with stabbing headaches. Esther carefully sat down beside her mother's graceful form and studied her classic face. She hoped that she would be able to see a warm smile on those gentle lips and a vivid sparkle in her piercingly blue eyes. She wished that her mother would allow herself to embrace her husband's caring gesture and her own feelings for him. Esther reached for her mother's cold hand, transmitting her love for her through one single touch. Lady Dedlock moved her head restlessly on her pillows. A wrinkle of despair formed on her forehead and she whispered inconceivable words or names in between her tossing. Esther squeezed her mother's hand gently, speaking softly to her to wake her up.
When My Lady opened her eyes, she was welcomed by the soothing look of her daughter's set of blue eyes.
"I must have dosed off, my child." She gave her a tired smile and got up slowly, fixing her hair and brushing her icy fingers gently against her daughter's cheek. "What is it, my child? You look worried."
"I do not so much worry about myself as I worry about you." Esther met her gaze, detecting the controlled and determined look in her mother's eyes again. "Mr. Bucket sends his compliments. He collected this note from Sir Leicester's at Chesney Wold. I believed that you would fancy to read it immediately."
The look in My Lady's eyes changed within the slightest of moments, and she reached for Sir Leicester's note, opening it impatiently. She tried to mask her feelings again, but could not help to release a hoarse gasp.
"What is it, mother?" Esther asked concerned. She was not able to interpret her Ladyship's reaction. "Did Sir Leicester not emphasize his affectionate protection and forgiveness?"
Lady Dedlock had closed her eyes and controlled her breath. She hardly parted her lips for her answer. "Quite the contrary, my child. He is deeply mistaken."
Esther reached for the letter she was handed by her mother and smiled. "Inspector Bucket assured me of the earnestness of Sir Leicester's request to welcome you back in Chesney Wold. He is of sound mind asking for your return."
My Lady raised her eyebrows the slightest of bits and forced back the tears that formed in her eyes. "I do not deserve his attention, my child, the wretched and calamitous woman that I am."
Esther rested her warming hands on her mother's shaking fingers, trying to soothe her. "May I suggest for you to consider to fulfill Sir Leicester's wish? I know that you are concerned about his health, but I understand that his condition has improved since he learned of your recovery. I dare not say how it might improve in your presence."
Esther took her mother into a loving embrace. "I know, you told me that you believe to have deceived him. But I dare say that you might judge him wrong. After everything I have learned so far, mother, I cannot find proof for anything less than his purest affection and highest estimation of your company."
Esther held her tightly to her chest when she felt silent tears running from her mother's tired eyes. "And I am certain of your personal dedication to Sir Leicester."
Lady Dedlock remained in her daughter's embrace for another instant, allowing the few tears that had won over her pride to fall on their chests. When she regained control over her emotions, she rose from Esther's arms, sitting up straight and reaching for another piece of paper to answer her husband's note.
"Sir Leicester has the priority to think of the house of Dedlock, to shield the family's name from any harm that could possibly ruin its reputation. I am certain that he will remember his duty after having gotten better. But I will answer his wish to take care for him, if he pleases, until he has fully recovered."
Not allowing Esther to utter another comment, Lady Dedlock formed her honourable attempts into the most graceful of words.
My dearest Leicester,
I should not want you to make hasty decisions in the delicate state of your health. I am devastated to hear about your condition, praying that you will recover soon. Of course, I will return to Chesney Wold if your health depends on it, but I shan't encumber you with my dishonor after your recovery. I deceived you for too long. It will be better for you to forget the unworthy wife who has caused you discomfort and pain oh so recently.
In Chesney Wold, Mrs. Rouncewell served eggs and muffins to her master. She was delighted to find him in an improving state of health but continued to worry about the absence of My Lady. She was well aware of Lady Dedlock's positive effect on Sir Leicester's mood and state of health. Since the first days of their marriage, Lady Dedlock had been a most caring and considerate wife. She had answered any proof of generous devotion of Sir Leicester's with a graceful gesture of gratitude. Mrs. Rouncewell had been skeptical at first, if she would allow herself to call it that, when her master had courted her Ladyship. She had been suspicious of My Lady, being worried of her master being fooled by her beauty and deceived by wicked motives. But she soon learned that My Lady was most attentive and tender to My Lord. She found her Ladyship not only to be graceful and charming, but also most respectful to her husband's needs and wishes. My Lady was ambitious and demanding, no doubt, but she was also supportive and appreciative to Sir Leicester's attention. She never denied him any wish he uttered towards her, she never missed to thank him for any gift he showered her with and she never dared to question his position. She was most faithful and committed to him, gracing him with the slightest smile or caress when he was feeling unwell.
My Lady was a proud and honourable woman, but she also allowed herself to show her deep affection for her husband in the presence of others. Mrs. Rouncewell had often suspected My Lady to feel haunted by the Ghost's Walk, but she had never dared to believe her to feel truly affected by it. My Lady had been awfully melancholy in the past months, she had been in her rooms a lot, all by herself, which was not like her Ladyship at all. Even when she was bored, My Lady used to grace My Lord with her presence. She was the most controlled woman Mrs. Rouncewell had ever met in her life. She could sigh without making a sound and dismiss unwelcome visitors with the politest of haughty smiles.
My Lady was unique in many ways, and in the most important of ways, unique to My Lord. Her happiness was most precious to Sir Leicester. Her mere arrival uplifted his mood. Her mere presence made his day. A look at her formidable portrait made him smile when she was absent without his company. He was most impatient when she was delayed and more gouty when she was away.
Not to be around in times of Sir Leicester's most recent state of being unwell was most ill-chosen. Her presence was missed in any instant of his being awake. He asked for her constantly. He made sure that everything was prepared for her return. The fires should welcome her in her rooms, the candles burn as if she would enter his rooms any minute, and the table be set for her to dine at if she pleased so.
My Lord had been most protective of her Ladyship. Mrs. Rouncewell was well aware that the misunderstanding between My Lord and My Lady must have been of a severe nature or My Lady would never have taken the journey My Lord had only learned about after his attack. But she knew that nothing would ever set them apart, not if it was at Sir Leicester's disposal. He did not only hold her personal attractions in the highest estimation, he also cared for her beyond reason. He would not allow anybody to harm or disgrace her. He would rather die than see her fall from grace without having fought any fight to save her. He was the finest gentleman, most attached and committed to his Lady. He would continue to celebrate her sacredness until the last days on his death bed. He did not intend to allow any possible failure in the past to alter his picture of My Lady or to decrease his dedication.
When Mrs. Rouncewell served Sir Leicester, she detected the tiniest of a hopeful smile on his lips at the sight of her Ladyship's latest note on the salver. She allowed him the privacy to read her message alone and assured him to be nearby if he needed anything. She only hoped that My Lady would return soon to uplift My Lord in the shortest of instants.
Sir Leicester hardly paid any attention to the selection of his favorite breakfast dishes on the salver. He shakily reached for My Lady's note, fearing for her to deny his utmost need to see her at his bedside out of shame. He read her message twice, not being able to fully grasp her words at the first sight of her familiar hand. He smiled for the shortest of moments for he had not expected her to react any differently. But he was most relieved to have convinced her to return to Chesney Wold after all. When he reached for a new sheet of paper, the shaking of his hands was almost gone and he felt a wave of regaining power overcoming his body.
Honoria, my love,
Please understand that you will never fall from grace in my eyes. You have been a loving and devoted wife to me. There has not been a day I was not happy to have wed you. You are my Lady. You are my love. You do not have to make anything good to me, and you could never encumber me.
I am not well since your flight. I fear for you, my dear. I fear for not being granted the chance to hold you by my side again. I feel ill because I miss your presence, your company, your care.
I hope you will answer my plea and return to Chesney Wold, to fill this dreadful place with life again, to grace me with your love.
Lady Dedlock was standing at the window in her rooms in her London town house. Her bags were packed with the clothes Inspector Bucket had collected from Chesney Wold the days after her discovery. She did not pay much attention to the rain that kept on pouring down outside. She used to be bored at the sight of the endless drops of rain knocking at her windows. Right now, those drops resembled the tears she hid from herself and the world around her.
She should have felt relieved and reassured after the last words of devotion from Sir Leicester's, but she could not help but feel ashamed and unworthy of his attention and love. She felt guilty. Guilty of having caused his most recent attack. Guilty of not having been able to save him from her disgrace. Guilty of having caused him distress. Guilty of having brought calamity to the house of Dedlock and pain to her daughter's life.
Esther had assured her of her forgiveness and her daughterly love. She had assured her of the unaltered feelings she would carry in her heart for her for the rest of her life. She had tried to cease any minute of the past days with her, knowing that they would never be allowed to share another moment of their lives together again. My Lady's heart did not feel any lighter since. The weight of her guilt, the pain of having abandoned her daughter without her knowledge or approval, letting it beat more slowly.
Staring out of her window allowed her to regain control. No one dared to disturb her, lost in thoughts like that. She could even allow herself to let a tear fall down her cheeks every now and then. And she listened to the calming dropping sound of the rain against the cold glass. It was a soothing sound for her.
Thinking back of the many days she had spent standing at one of her many windows in London or in Chesney Wold, she closed her eyes in memory of the past months of uncertainty. She still felt Mr. Tulkinghorn's grip around her neck, the weight of her secret on her chest and the pain of reassurance to have been detected. But she also thought of her husband's affectionate words and his attempts to protect and regain her honour. Pictures of their wedding day came to her mind. The way he had carefully raised her veil to kiss her tenderly for the first time. The way he had danced with her, secretly caressing her waist and complementing her graceful endurance of his family's staring glare. The way he had treated her oh so gallantly and gently on their wedding night. The way he had never stopped to worship her.
My Lady stared at her own reflection in the drop-decorated window. She could hardly bare to look at herself and turned away from the reproachful look that bore into her from her own eyes.
She would answer her husband's wish of course. She would return to Chesney Wold, but she was not sure for how long. She had answered his last message with a hasty assurance of her return, hoping that it would calm him a little, and stressing her intention to allow him to reconsider his manly dedication and support.
My dearest Leicester,
How could I resist your plea, my love? I certainly do not deserve your forgiveness and your devotion, but I will answer your generosity with my endless and humble dedication to the house of Dedlock.
George Rouncewell smiled at the sight of the latest note of Lady Dedlock's to Sir Leicester. He knew that his master would interrupt any activity for the latest news from London. He could not await for My Lady's return, and neither could General George. His mother had assured him of My Lady's unique touch of encouragement she had on Sir Leicester. He could not wait to be a witness to that magical influence Lady Dedlock was able to perform on My Lord.
He knocked and waited for Sir Leicester to ask him to enter. When he did, George Rouncewell handed him the note and prepared himself to leave again in an instant. But he was asked to wait and deliver My Lord's answer to her Ladyship's first nightly stop in person.
My dearest Honoria,
I cannot await your return, my Lady. I want to assure you that you do not owe any penance to the house of Dedlock. I was preoccupied with our position for too long a time. There is nothing that could bring disgrace to Chesney Wold, and be assured that for me, there never has been. Your honour was never in question, and it was rightly saved.
Ever Your loving Leicester
My Lady was sitting in her room in Bleak House where they had stopped to welcome her for the night. She had not been hungry and excused herself to bed. Mr. Woodcourt had been so nice and checked on her condition before he had showed Esther in to ask her for any wishes she might have. With Ada and Mr. Skimpole away in London, Bleak House was a safe haven for the night, and Mr. Jarndyce made sure that Lady Dedlock did feel as much at home as she might feel comfortable with. When General George arrived, he showed him to My Lady's room for he was not allowed to pass Sir Leicester's message to anyone but My Lady herself. She was as controlled as ever when she received My Lord's note and opened her husband's reassuring lines in the privacy of her nightly home. She did not allow any wave of emotions to overrule her and fought her feelings of awe to the back of her mind when she heard the soft knocking of her daughter's fingers on the door.
The next morning was dreary for both Esther and My Lady. They had said a tearful good-bye in the privacy of her room the night before to avoid any suspicion at her departure. Lady Dedlock, mastering her deepest feelings as usual, had an air of indifferent but polite haughtiness about her. Mr. Jarndyce was most astonished at her restriction and Mr. Woodcourt felt not the slightest hint of stiffness when he helped her into the carriage. Esther, although being her mother's daughter in so many a situation in her young life, fought hard to keep up a smile and admired her mother's well-mastered self-control. When My Lady's carriage took off, she was waved good-bye and very much missed in the secrecy of her nightly stop.
In Chesney Wold, Sir Leicester was sitting in the library to take his morning tea over the last answer of her Ladyship that was delivered to him on George Rouncewell's return.
My dearest Leicester,
I cannot form into words the gratitude that I feel regarding your generosity to forgive my dishonour. I realize that you always held my company in highest estimation, but I dared not believe how deeply you feel for me, my dear.
I could never return the devotion you grace me with though I will aspire to be your repentant and honourable wife, and a humble servant to the house of Dedlock if you please.
I do not understand how you could ever forget my disgrace, but I will answer your wish to remain your Lady with my purest affection. I do not deserve to be granted with your love but I will not miss a day to reward you for your commitment.
Your loving Honoria
It was late at night when My Lady's carriage stopped before the gates of Chesney Wold. She was astonished to find the house lit up and waiting for her arrival. When she descended the carriage, George Rouncewell offered her his supportive hand and she was welcomed by Sir Leicester's faithful housekeeper Mrs. Rouncewell.
"Oh, My Lady! It is so good to see you well. I hope to have the honour of welcoming you in good health."
Lady Dedlock was surprised to be welcomed so warmly and bowed her head in her usual appreciatory manner. "Thank you, Mrs. Rouncewell. How is Sir Leicester?"
"I knew that you would be concerned for My Lord's health after your arrival, My Lady," Mrs. Rouncewell answered, deeply moved. "Sir Leicester had intended to personally await your arrival, but he was asked to seek some rest at the lateness of the hour in earnest recommendation of his doctors."
Lady Dedlock bowed her head again in approval. "I see."
"But Sir Leicester asked us all to remain awake and await your return in full light and preparation," she addressed her son who carried My Lady's luggage into the house. "George, would you wake My Lord then, please."
"No!" Lady Dedlock interrupted her hastily. "Please, I would like to refresh myself a little and wake Sir Leicester if he pleased to be woken at my arrival."
"Of course, My Lady." Mrs. Rouncewell answered with a relieved smile. "If you please, you were very much missed."
Lady Dedlock replied with the slightest of her insinuated smiles and raised her right eyebrow for an instant before she took the stairs to her rooms. Her steps felt heavy and uncertain when she entered her bedroom, and she could not help but smile at the sight of the perfectly stirred fire in her fireplace. Everything was just as she had left it behind.
She sat down in front of her looking glass and checked her hair. Refreshing herself a little, she studied her pale face and choked down the wave of panic that overcame her. She took in another deep breath and prepared herself to face her awaiting husband. She got up and crawled into My Lord's room, sending the maids and doctors away to bed. She stood at the end of his bed for an instant, studying his sleeping form, before she came to sit next to him, taking his hand into hers. She was trembling and her voice denied her her first attempts to address him. She closed her eyes and lowered her head to regain her composure again, before she whispered his name.
His lips formed into a broad smile at the sound of her voice before he opened his eyes to the tearful face of his wife. She was not able to meet his gaze until he raised her chin with the gentle touch of his fingers.
She tried her best to control her feelings the way she had done so many months before, but she was unable to suppress her concern and shame in the solitude of his room. The painful moan that escaped her trembling lips was accompanied by a wave of uncontrolled tears and hidden emotions that fought its way to the surface. She buried her head on his chest, feeling the tender caress of his fingers in her hair and on her back. He was overwhelmed by her distress and placed a soft kiss onto her dark hair. He did not know how to soothe her, never having seen her upset like that. He did not find the right words to say before she calmed herself a little under his forgiving treatment.
"Honoria, my love," he whispered onto her hair, holding her close like he had not held her for too long a time. "Please, do not ever deprive me of your society for so long a time again."
She gave him a tearful giggle between her sobs and raised her head, meeting his gentle and deeply concerned gaze. "You should not waste your time on being worried about me, my love."
Sir Leicester gave her one of his warmest smiles. "Oh my dear, I am worried about you, of course. You should have confided me in. I can hardly imagine what a burden you took on yourself to spare me from pain and distress."
He brought his warm fingers to her wet face, caressing her tears away to give room for more. "I was too occupied with things that proved to be of secondary importance, if any, when I learned of the consequences you thought to be necessary to answer my needs."
He placed a soft kiss onto her cheek. "There has never been anything beyond your happiness, my love."
My Lady shook her head, trying to regain control over her feelings again. She failed the slightest attempts and whispered in response to her husband's understanding words, "The name of Dedlock is of utmost importance."
"It is not in danger to be disgraced or ruined, my love. Rest assured of that." My Lord smiled at her.
"You should not have spared any expenses on saving my honour." She sobbed, giving in on her emotions for the first time in the presence of her husband's.
"Oh, no. No, no, no," Sir Leicester tried to soothe her again. "I meant every word I wrote to you, my love. Your honour was never questioned by me and, thus, rightly saved."
"How can you even bare to look at me?" Lady Dedlock rested her exhausted head on his chest. "I deceived you for so long."
Sir Leicester continued to caress My Lady's hair for a while before he simply held her close. "Oh my love, you had your secret. But you never deceived me. You have been a most honourable and faithful wife to me. There has not been a day you did not return my love. There has not been a day you did not grace me with your beauty. There has not been a day I wish to miss since you agreed to become my wife."
He placed another soft kiss onto her hair. "The only thing I always regretted was not to have had a child with you. I guess, it could not be helped. And rest assured that now that I know about your condition after your confinement, I rather have you here with me, alive and well, than having lost you to a daughter or son to pass on the Dedlock name."
Lady Dedlock remained silent for a while, seeking comfort in My Lord's loving embrace. Her tears had dried and she was certain of the sincerity of Sir Leicester's protective words. She rose from his embrace, searching his hand to be held again and graced him with her dearest of smiles.
"I am deeply sorry to learn that you have been gravely ill since my flight."
"I was not so much ill because of your secret, but because of the suddenness of your journey, my love," Sir Leicester answered calmly. "I was deeply worried for your health, my dear, fearing that you might have fled into hopelessness, depriving me of the chance to settle our misunderstanding."
He smiled. "I am feeling much better now."
My Lady returned his smile, caressing his whiskered cheek. "Whatever makes you feel better, my love. Whatever pleases you. I will be here."
Sir Leicester kissed her palm and pointed to her latest note which was lying on his bedside table. "I will gladly accept your offer, my love, but only as my wife, never as a servant."
My Lady did not answer him with a smile. She did not say a word or bowed her head. She merely looked at him, giving away her gratitude in an intense blink of her clearing up eyes. Had her eyes been darkened and grey for the past days and weeks, the most intense and sparkling blue was shining from her face again when Lady Dedlock lay beside her husband to spend the rest of the night in his tight and reassuring embrace.
A story would be told for years to come, how the formidable and beautiful Lady Dedlock had brought back life to Chesney Wold when the clouds had hung deep over the melancholy place already. How she had remained a faithful and affectionate wife to Sir Leicester's until he lay on his death bed to die in her loving arms after years of a devoted matrimony, and how she had celebrated her victory over the Ghost's Walk.