Hello and welcome! I've had this story in my head for quite a while, and now I'm finally writing it down while I should be doing my homework, so I have it fairly well plotted out. I know it's kind of a weird idea, but I just really wanted to share my feels with the entire Internet. Anyway, if you're reading this, it would mean the world if you left a review! I do not own The Woman in Black. Enjoy...
When I opened my eyes, Joseph was gone. I realized I was still on the tracks and flinched, but the train had already passed, somehow missing me while my eyes had been closed. I looked around for my son—perhaps he had scrambled back onto the platform in time and I would turn around to see him safe and sound in the arms of his nanny or Sam Daily.
I turned. No. The station was deserted, except for a woman in a green dress and a driver who was loading the woman's boxes into his buggy and helping her up to her seat. She looked rather well-off and I was surprised that she wasn't taking an automobile instead, before I remembered that Sam owned the only one in the county. Even so, the buggy was built in a style that had been popular sixty or so years ago. Surely this woman could afford a newer one.
But that didn't matter. Where was Joseph? I looked around me, quickly becoming frantic, but there was no sign of him, nor of the nanny or Sam. The station seemed different than the one my son had arrived at only a few minutes ago. The paint on the walls was less chipped and the wooden floors were less corroded from years of being trampled on. The face of the clock suspended over the doorway was closer to white than the yellow I remembered and a patch of the roof that had been boarded up was now simply a hole. That was when I noticed the schedule that was fixed to the wall beside the door. The date was correct down to the day of the week, but the year had moved backward by more than six decades.
I shook my head. It must be a mistake. Or my imagination was playing tricks on me after the disturbing few days I'd had. But no, I had made a point of looking at the schedule before Joseph's train arrived and the year had been correct.
"Sir?" A woman's voice called, and I jumped nearly out of my skin. It was the woman in green from before. She had noticed me and hopped down from the buggy, to the aggravation of her driver, who had been about to flick the reins and take off. "Sir," she persisted, "why are you standing on the train tracks?"
I opened my mouth to answer, but found that I couldn't. I felt dazed, but I managed to clamber back up onto the platform instead of just standing mutely. The woman looked about thirty and had dark brown hair that was pulled back tightly into a roll at the nape of her neck. There was some gentleness in her face, though it was hidden under stern-looking eyebrows. She looked vaguely familiar. Maybe she could help me.
"Are you looking for something?" she asked, taking a few steps toward me.
"I have to find my son."
She frowned and said, "There's no one here but us, I'm afraid. And I should know; I was the last one to get off the train. No one else stayed on until this stop."
A sudden gush of fear made my thoughts run together and all the words broke through at once. "But he was here," I stammered, "I was here with him. Please, you have to help me find him. He saw her, the Woman in Black."
She didn't know what I was saying. She didn't know the story. Maybe… maybe it really was sixty years in the past.
Suddenly, the driver's impatience got the best of him and he called out, "Mrs. Drablow, if we don't leave now, the tide will come in while we're still on the causeway."
"Oh, of course," she said, but then she looked back at me and her eyes widened. "Marius, come help me with him," she exclaimed. "He looks as if he's about to fall over."
Evidently, she was right because the station began to spin around me just as the driver pulled my arm around his shoulders. I only protested faintly as the two of them propped me up inside the buggy.
"Marius will drive you to wherever you're going," Alice Drablow offered.
"No, no, I have to catch the next train back to London."
"The schedule in the station said there wouldn't be another train to London until next week. You'll have to stay in the village somewhere."
"I'll find a room at the Gifford Arms," I decided.
Her forehead creased. "Where is that?" she asked.
"There isn't an inn in Crythin Gifford—not for the past year anyway, since the old one burnt down. Why don't you stay with my husband and me? Our house really is much nicer than the rest of the town."
I shook my head rapidly. Just a few hours ago, I had been only too happy at the thought of never setting foot in Eel Marsh House again. No. I wasn't going back. "There must be somewhere in the village…"
"There is a tavern," Alice admitted, "but there are no rooms for rent there."
"Take me there."
"No, sir, I insist. It's no trouble to me and Morgan and if you like, we can have you on a train to London as soon as one comes through. What is your name?"
I muttered the answer.
"Beg pardon?" she asked.
"Well, Mr. Kipps, I don't think you'll find another place around here to stay and we have plenty of room. More than we can afford, to be entirely honest."
I had run out of arguments, so I said nothing.
"The only problem is…" Alice trailed off. "Well, hopefully it won't be an issue," she concluded, after a moment of thought.
It was another hour before we reached the house. Despite Marius's fear of being caught on the causeway when the tide came in, he was forced to rein the horses into a cautious walk when a cloud of mists rolled over the marshland. Cold, fatigue and hunger were all vying for my attention by the time we arrived at the familiar front gates.
Watching the doors open to a luxuriant, well-kept foyer was something of a surprise after the days I had spent here amid covered furniture and mountains of dust. A man was waiting there when we stepped inside and this time, I was quick enough to recognize the man who had stood next to Alice and Nathaniel in the photograph.
"Morgan, this is Arthur Kipps," Alice announced, letting a maid help her peel off her coat. "I found him stranded at the train station. He'll be spending the night."
I was still feeling rather dazed, but I managed a polite nod. Mr. Drablow grasped my hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Kipps. Those are some strange clothes you're wearing. From London I suppose?"
I looked down. I still had on one of the typical dress suits I might have worn to one of those dreaded conferences with Mr. Bentley back home. The style of the clothes had been a few years past its prime then, but I supposed now it was ahead of its time by sixty years. "Er, yes," I affirmed.
"Well, they're soaked right through," replied Mr. Drablow. He was right. The mists on the causeway had condensed in tiny pearls on the fabric and seeped through almost to the skin. "I'll let you borrow some dry clothes of mine," he offered.
I wordlessly followed the maid to my room where, I was told, a set of dry clothes would be waiting for me. When we reached the door I froze. It was the nursery. Or rather, it would be. For now, it seemed, it was still a spare guest room.
"Is the room not to your liking, sir?" the maid ventured.
"No, it's—it's fine," I muttered and went inside. I braced myself against the room's strange draftiness and the feeling of being glared at from all directions, but neither was there. There were no rusty toys, no red letters on the walls, not even a hook or fixture on the ceiling from which to hang a rope. But none of this made me like the room any better. I slipped into the new clothes as quickly as I could, leaving the dripping ones in a heap on the floor, and went back downstairs.
I found Mr. Drablow in the sitting room, with his wife in the chair beside his, also in fresh clothes. They gestured that I should sit down in one of the available chairs and attempted pleasant chatter for a few minutes. I learned that Alice had been coming home from –Shire, where she had been visiting her mother, who was ailing. Presently, the maid came back in and announced that dinner was ready.
"Thank you, Grace," said Alice, getting up and sweeping toward the dining room, her husband and me in tow. "Is there an extra place setting for Mr. Kipps?"
"Yes, Ma'am," the maid replied.
Alice nodded. "Good, now will you go and fetch my sister? I think she's still sulking in her room. She usually—"
"I'm here already."
The voice of the girl slumped over the table, waiting for us sent a shock through me, because it was normal. It was high and level and nothing worse than impatient, an ordinary young woman's voice. She was only vaguely recognizable as the woman who had appeared to me in the burning house and the nursery window; her basic features were there, but less pallid and hollowed out than I remembered and her eyes were round and a bit sunken, but they lacked the raw hatred that I knew would be there one day. Her loosely tied-back hair was dark brown with a hint of red, not the raven color I had pictured when I couldn't see it beneath her bonnet. Rather than the mourning clothes I had come to expect, she was wearing a light blue dress which she apparently didn't like because she kept tugging on the sleeves. It made her look innocent, a word I had never expected to associate with her.
"Jennet, you startled us," Alice exclaimed. "You usually stay in your room until someone comes to get you. You must be hungry."
"I'm famished, actually," she replied. "I've been waiting here for ages."
"Why didn't you come and talk with us in the sitting room?" Mr. Drablow asked. She ignored him.
"Jennet, kindly sit up like a civilized person. We have a guest after all," Alice said after a moment. Jennet scowled, which made her look more familiar, but straightened up and took her elbows off the table. Her eyes flickered toward me and she nodded briefly in my direction before turning back to her sister. "Who is that?" she asked.
"I'm sure he'll tell you if you ask him."
She looked back at me. "Arthur," I murmured.
Alice frowned at her sister. "Aren't you going to introduce yourself to Mr. Kipps?"
"I doubt he's interested," said Jennet. Alice glanced at me apologetically and her husband frowned at Jennet, but a moment later the food was served and everything else was forgotten. Mr. and Mrs. Drablow continued making polite small talk, asking about my family and my life in London. I answered vaguely and succinctly; I hadn't had time to think of answers that entirely made sense in this time period and I wasn't hoping to invite conversation and stay up chatting late into the night. I couldn't relax around these people, even if they all were still alive. Jennet picked at her food silently. After a while, Alice attempted to rope her into the conversation:
"Jennet, Mr. Kipps was just telling us that he's a solicitor back in London. He's never been to Crythin Gifford before. Isn't that interesting?"
"Then what is he doing here now?"
"Don't pry, dear. If you had come to visit Mother with me, you would have met him sooner, at the train station. You really should have come with, you know, Mother would have loved to see you."
"No. She would not have."
"Of course she would have."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well… Jennet, you've hardly touched your food. I thought you said you were famished."
"Oh, fine. I suppose things like that happen when you're carrying a child."
Jennet's plate squeaked as she accidentally pressed her knife against it too hard. She was silent for a moment, casting a furious glance at me, then she pushed her chair back and left the room.
"It would seem she doesn't want anybody to know about the baby just yet," said Mr. Drablow, confirming what I had already been speculating.
"Thank you, Morgan," Alice snapped, apparently miffed that he had stated the obvious. "I don't know who she thinks she's fooling," she went on, more calmly. "The rumors have already circulated the entire village as well as the one around our childhood home. And, of course, I've already written to Mother. Perhaps I shouldn't have said anything. But as Mr. Kipps is staying with us, he should know."
If I hadn't been familiar with the history—well, the future of this family, I wouldn't have thought it remotely important that they tell me Jennet was with child. In fact I was surprised they hadn't tried to cover it up, seeing as her body wasn't showing signs yet and I was only staying until I could catch the next train to London. My curiosity was relieved when Mr. Drablow said, "You tell him about your sister then," and Alice sighed, and explained:
"My sister is a good girl, Mr. Kipps. But she isn't always… She's not quite right. Of course, it isn't as if she's dangerous or anything like that, but she tended to have—fits, shall we say, when the two of us were young. She only just came to stay with us a week ago because her—her gentleman friend wanted no part of the whole mess, apparently. Just do try not to upset her. Her health isn't at its best and, of course, none of us wants to endanger the child."
I nodded, but later that night, lying awake in a room that I would never, ever be able to sleep in, I thought that Jennet had seemed… fine. Just annoyed. And certainly not like a person who would make children poison themselves or burn their own houses down. Or stand in front of a train.
With a sigh, I turned over in bed. Perhaps if I didn't face the room, I could pretend I was somewhere else. The fact was I didn't know what I would do once I got back to London. Get a job and find a place to stay, I supposed. But I didn't want to stay here. By rights, I should have died when that train hit me, not been sent back to this strange place, and if I was dead I would be with Joseph. And Stella. The two of them were all that was important to me anymore.
An idea struck me. Despite what Alice had said, for now, Jennet seemed to be nothing more than an angry little girl and I thought that maybe she was still together, her sanity still mostly intact. If I could prevent the tragedy that would push her over the edge, the events that led to Joseph's death would never happen. It would be too late for my wife, but not for my son.
Yes, I would stay. Because living in this horrible village for seven more years would be a million times better than living the rest of my life knowing that I could have saved him.
Eh, see what I did there? Yeah... Please alert me to any grammar issues, typos, historical inaccuracies etc. and they will be squashed. And once again, please review!