I was inspired to quickly write this chapter about John's imprisonment and trial after a look at what turned out to be a phantom trailer (it has disappeared since leaving only a few gifs behind on the net as evidence of its existence) for season 3. Somehow the hopelessness of their situation really moved me and has probably made this a very maudlin piece. As always I struggled with the title too and decided on using 'Such a long journey', which was one of Rohinton Mistry's excellent books. Love to hear what people think and there are a couple more chapters planned for now.
John Bates lay in his prison cell contemplating as yet another day of nothingness turned to night. Not that it made much difference to him. Day or night, he remained the same old John, listless, melancholy, resigned and lost in thoughts of her. A single flickering bulb in the corridor brought some light into his cell and also cast a few dark shadows. He tried to read but neither the light nor his mind would cooperate. He did not want to read or sleep, he just wanted to think of her. Yet the more he thought about her, the more wistful he became and the pain of separation becoming more acute. Lately it had scared him, thinking about her. As his stay in prison lengthened and became more permanent, the more obvious her suffering.
And now the day of judgement had finally arrived. His case was being heard again in court. Days had become weeks, weeks became months and months became years. It was just a little under two years since he had first been arrested for Vera's murder. Just under two years, 714 days to be precise since he had married Anna. Just under two years, 712 days which she had spent waiting for him to be released. When he had first been tried and sentenced to hang, her devastation was extreme and heartbreaking. He could not think straight with the sheer dread of being hanged, being put down and separated totally and finally from his Anna. He had spent years being down on himself before Anna had entered his life like a beacon of hope. Still he had held back wanting to protect her from his past, from Vera and from himself. But he could not stop himself loving her and she would not give up on him. A brief moment of unsurpassed joy ensued as they finally married under the shadow of Vera's death and consummated their bond. He could not recall ever being so happy and she had sparkled with exhilaration. And just as quickly, the light was taken away from their lives and he was arrested. Her anguished face, lips quivering and tears that threatened never to stop, were etched in his mind. After that things only became worse and finally and inevitably for him, he was sentenced to hang to death.
As he had kissed her for the final time, he knew that she would take years to recover if she ever did. A happy innocent and hopeful life was also being taken away with his. Yet he knew he could never regret loving her, loving her had made him alive again, even if he was now sentenced to death. He had selfishly chosen her, chosen to live. He could not escape his predicament and as the fates had conspired against him, his life was over. And more to his eternal sorrow, hers was probably too. But somehow he was reprieved at the last moment much to his relief. They had been hopeful, happy even for that brief moment before reality set in. He knew that it was very probable that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. But she would not countenance it.
"I won't rest until we have you out," she had declared determinedly. He wanted to be caught up in her optimism, yet the thought nagged at the back of his mind. What if he was never released, was Anna doomed to serve a sentence for life too. In that moment he wondered if being hanged would have been more merciful to her. Yes it would have shattered her heart, but at least she would have to accept the reality of a life without him and perhaps move on at some point. This way, she was constantly teased by the prospect of a life together, yet never really be able to achieve it. He could never doubt her determination or resolve. He knew she would give it her all and that was what worried him the most. She must realise that he could be forever sentenced to a life behind bars. He wanted to warn her, ease her burden and calm her flame before it engulfed her and subsumed her. She had taken it upon herself to do everything possible to secure his release. The waiting for documents and evidence, the brief visits, the interminable court proceedings all took their toll. Between the hard work as a housemaid and her visits to York to see him, every moment was taken up with trying to find evidence, information and slivers of hope. Every week as he saw her, she was more and more overcome with the enormity of the task. He wanted to hold her, slow her down and comfort her. He ached for her, ached to have her in his arms and calm her. Each passing week seemed to make it worse. The world around them, the people in Downton, all seemed to move forward without much of a hitch. Marriages being held, children being born, people moving jobs, everyone caught up in the hub hub of daily life and living. Yet their lives, her life was at a standstill and all that mattered was his release. He tried to gently nudge her into moving on, making new friends, urging her to have fun, find leisure, but it was in vain. How could she, when her life was locked up. All that she lived for now was him and as long as he was locked away from her, her life also remained imprisoned.
She was a hopeful person, someone who liked to look forward but all these months had extracted a huge toll on her. As the date was fixed for his hearing, she all but threw herself into helping his case. Not that there was much she could do, yet she tried, met his lawyers, urged them on. She would write letters, read law books from the library. He tried to gently make her face the reality as she conjured up yet another potential explanation for Vera's death and his innocence. "I don't see what can come of it", he gently let her down. But she refused to lose hope and give up, "Probably nothing. And my next idea will probably lead to nothing. And the next and the next," she carried on. He knew the answer, yet he had to ask, "Do you never doubt?". "No," she shook her head and smiled bravely. Her complete faith had him believing for a moment too.
As the date for his trial neared, the more it appeared as though she was in a trance. It was taking a toll on her health, she looked gaunt, eyes encircled by dark rings and deprived of sleep with only the hope of his release to keep her going. He could see the rosary beads wrapped around her palms and knew that she was seeking more solace in prayer. It terrified him to even contemplate not being released. All her hopes was pinned on it. How would she survive if the worst, perhaps the inevitable were to happen? He wished he could slow her down, but he was helpless.
Tomorrow or rather today, it was already past midnight, was the start of his new trial. Since evening, he could hear the rain lashing against the window. The howling wind, the streaks of lightening and shuddering thunderous claps all somehow seemed ominous and portentous. Portents of impending doom, it appeared to him. He willed himself to think positively and think of Anna. Yet all he could see was her slight form bent over in grief and in a flood of tears. The torrent outside continued unabated and seemed to intensify. He wondered what she was doing now. He hoped sleep had not eluded her as it had him, but that was a vain hope. She was probably up and praying or just sitting in her bed thinking of him, them. If there was a god or justice in this world, he would be released. Yes, her innocent life was at stake, surely he would be released and this ordeal would end. He willed himself to think so, keeping all his bitter thoughts at bay. Yes, tomorrow would bring a new hope to their lives.