Hi, kiddies! Sorry for the long wait. School has kind of been eating my brain, but I was motivated by these lovely things called reviews, so big ole' hugs for BritneyAndHarryPotterForever , GIR lover42, .Paradise, and Anera527! You guys are awesome.
This here chapter is from Jennet's point of view. She and Arthur are gonna be switching off from now on. This one's a little on the raw side, but I'm assuming you guys can handle it, since you enjoy The Woman in Black. Which I still don't own. Maybe some day...
This damned house. I had never been able to sleep here and likely never would. Alice could blame the pregnancy all she liked, but the sound of the marsh lapping over the causeway outside wasn't unrelated either. I hated being trapped here by the tide, even if I had nowhere else to go. It was like being in a cell, and that wasn't a feeling I enjoyed revisiting.
The darkness probably wasn't unrelated either. Eel Marsh House was nearly two miles away from any lighted windows in the village and the starlight was choked off by the mists, more often than not. But I forced that thought aside. What sort of mother would I be if I was still afraid of the dark?
I lied awake, staring at the window—the only source of muddy light in my room—for a minute or two longer, before whatever it was that was keeping me awake got the better of me. I got out of bed, wondering how long it would be until I was too swollen to do even that without difficulty, and stepped out into the hallway. Luckily, the moon was glowing full and strong tonight, so I wouldn't have to rely on my other senses to get where I was going. I did my best to step lightly as I made my way down the stairs and into one of the more rarely used parlors; the house liked to groan and creak, and I knew that if I woke anyone up, they would make me go back to bed. In the parlor was a rocking chair, which was quickly becoming my closest friend in the world. Alice had bought it during her own pregnancy, and when she had lost the baby, the chair was one of the only things she bothered to keep. I had taken to it immediately, although I knew that it wouldn't be of any real use until the child was actually born. Swaying back and forth in the rocking chair made the world seem last daunting. It was there that I thought maybe I could leave Crythin Gifford one day, find a job somewhere and earn enough to raise a child by myself.
Upstairs, a sluggish set of footsteps began to circle the floor of one of the bedrooms. Arthur Kipps had been staying here for three weeks and hadn't yet failed to pace the floor of his room for the better part of every night. The morning after his arrival, he had all but skipped down the stairs to breakfast, all questions about whether there were any solicitors in the village and if he would have any trouble setting up an office there. My sister and her husband had assured him that he wouldn't and admitted that they were not nearly as wealthy as most of the village people would have him believe, therefore if he wanted to rent his room, they would be more than glad to have him as a tenant. He accepted instantly. I was left to wonder why anyone in possession of their senses would stay here when they didn't have to. Despite his enthusiasm that first day, it seemed Mr. Kipps wasn't pleased with the situation either. He left for his office early each morning and returned late. When he was at home, he spent as much time as possible cooped up in his room, which hardly made sense because he quite clearly hated it. He rarely spoke and we almost never saw him eat. Lately, he seemed to warm up to Alice and her husband and one or two of the servants, but he made a point of never speaking to me. Or looking at me. But most respectable gentlemen acted that way toward women who were unmarried and with child. It made no difference to me. At least I wasn't the only one who was miserable.
I sighed, pushing my toes into the cool smoothness of the floor to make the chair rock backward as far as it would go and listening as the rails bumped against the floor. I had fallen asleep to this sound every night as a child. That had been a long time ago.
I never liked dolls when I was young. They were pretty, and you could braid their hair, but in the end they weren't real, and being surrounded by pretend friends only emphasized the lack of real ones. They were fun to break tough.
The house I grew up in was isolated and we never had visits from family members, due to a falling out between my father and his brother. I tried following the servants around, but my mother didn't like that. I had Alice to talk to, but she was twelve years older and would marry soon and leave us anyway. I often got frustrated with the lack of company. Sometimes I tried to break real people too.
The doctors called it fits of rage, Alice and my father just said misbehavior, and my mother was too mortified to speak of it at all. She was the only one—everybody else was consumed by excitement whenever I got angry. For my part, once I managed to calm down, I was mostly just bewildered. All children acted out, didn't they? As servant after servant was hired, only to resign a month or two later, I grew annoyed. People were so stupid. Why would anyone be afraid of me? When my father died prematurely, I collected more accusatory glances than pitying ones.
I was fifteen when my mother had finally had enough. Alice argued in my favor, but by then she could only argue by letter, as Morgan Drablow had whisked her away and settled her down in another village some twenty miles off. I missed her enough to stop speaking nearly all together and flatly ignore the wishes and then the orders of my mother. When she had me taken away, I told myself I was glad. Anywhere would be better than here. When I arrived at my next destination, I realized that I could not have been more wrong.
Being one of the only patients to come from privilege, it took me longer than it took the rest of them to grow accustomed to the conditions. Not that anyone ever really did. I only tried to lash out at one of the doctors once—I regained consciousness a few hours later, too sore to stir a limb. They kept me in chains for a year after that. I decided that this was a punishment: if I stopped being angry, my mother would come and take me home. So I suppressed all my rage and hurt feelings that she had let someone else take me away, and I waited.
I waited for her for three years. The fits died away as I aged and grew numb enough to survive three winters of disease and starvation. It was longer than many of the other patients lasted.
It was the beginning of spring when things began to change. We were three to a bed and one of the women I shared with—an elderly thing who had been sent here for speaking out against her husband one too many times—was being treated for a nasty cough. They thought she might live, so a physician had been called in to see her. I pretended to be occupied trying to scrape the rust off a nail protruding from the bedframe as I listened to the proceedings, so that they would think I didn't care. I was afraid that if the doctors discovered I was fond of the old woman, they would make me share a bed with a different patient.
At last the physician turned to one of the doctors and said, "Keep her in bed for a while and see if you can give her some more water. And send for me again if she starts coughing blood."
His voice was clear and strong and so different from the hollow murmurs of the doctors and the screeches and whimpers of the other patients. It startled me, so I turned and looked at him, and even years later, after everything he did to me, I had to force myself not to smile when I remembered seeing his face that first time.
He looked perhaps thirty, with a thin face and yellow hair and eyes the color of tea with no milk. There were no lines on his face and no grey in his hair—he looked calm and too untouched to be in this hell. Before leaving, he noticed me staring and smiled at me. I watched the back of his white coat until he reached the door. It was the first smile I had seen in a long time.
He was called back in the next day to see to a wound in my hand from a rusty nail protruding from the bed frame.
The blood in my face was scalding for the entirety of his visit and I was sure he could feel my hand shaking as he stitched it up. His face was turned downward, but I thought the corners of his mouth were turned upward just slightly. When my hand was put back together, he went to speak with the doctors in a room that patients were never allowed into. It was where the doctors did their paperwork and complained together about working here. It had been years since I had lost the nerve and the motivation to defy the doctors, but I found myself glancing around to see if anyone was watching, before sneaking out of the communal bedroom and pressing my ear against the door through which he had disappeared.
"Thank you for agreeing to come in, Dr. Pierston," one of the doctors was saying. "A check will be sent to your office shortly."
"It was no trouble at all. Have that nail fixed though."
"We will, we will. You noticed no other health problems in the patient?"
"None. Who was that, by the way? She looked very young."
"Jennet Humfrye, one of our more lucid patients. We don't keep a record of their ages, but I wouldn't be surprised if she were just shy of twenty."
"Mm. What is a pretty thing like her doing in a place like this?"
"Her mother had her sent here, three or four years ago. She suffered fits of rage in her childhood, but they've died down. Now she mostly just keeps to herself, lives in her own head."
"I see. Well, be sure to send for me if there are any more problems."
My heart was still fluttering when I heard footsteps approaching the door. I tried to scurry back to the dormitory before it opened, but I wasn't quick enough. None of the doctors were with the physician as he stepped out the door, but I spent a long moment paralyzed with fear that he would tell them. He looked at me quizzically and I stared back with eyes as round as saucers, then he winked and walked away, down the long, white hallway.
I watched him go, stunned, before I remembered that I still shouldn't have been here. I ran back to my bed and wriggled under the flimsy blanket, pressing my face into the mattress. I had forgotten how to stop smiling.
It became a game. Once a week or so, I would mysteriously attain some injury just serious enough to require medical care. For their part, the doctors thought the other patients were picking on me and had me separated. But I wasn't lonely. I was happier than I could ever remember being, puzzling over new ways to hurt myself so that no one would find out and daydreaming about my friend's next visit. He saw through my game from the very beginning, but he kept it our secret. He seemed happier to see me each time he was summoned, always sweeping into my cell, saying, "Well, Miss Jennet, what have you gotten yourself into, this time?" I was always too shy to answer, but he made up for my timidity, telling me all about his life during our appointments. I learned that his name was Oliver Pierston, he was thirty-two, and he had just recently become a physician after breaking off an engagement to a lady who disapproved of the ambition. After a few months, I plucked up the courage to speak to him, limiting myself to whispered one-word phrases at first, but I soon found myself pouring all my stories out to him. I told him about my childhood with my mother and Alice and the death of my father, about how I had been so hopeful when I was first locked up here and how I had eventually faded into despondency. I told him things I would never have told anyone else. I hadn't known it was possible to love another person so much. When he finally bent down and kissed me one day, I felt so light I thought I would dissolve into the air and never be heard from again.
Within a year, he took me away, carrying me off to a little town in the country side where no one knew us. We told everyone that I was his wife. He said that soon, I would be. I would sit for hours on our porch, just feeling the sun on my face while I waited for him to come home, knowing that no one was chasing me. When he returned with stories about the townspeople and occasionally little gifts, I would tug him inside by the hand and kiss every piece of him. I belonged to him in all aspects. And I was glad to be his.
A year passed and we still weren't married. A little worry crept up in my mind, but no, he would be true to his word. I trusted him. I trusted him.
Another year and the fights began. I had let my life with him stay out in the sun and it went sour. The families in the neighboring cottages often heard our shouting and avoided looking at us the next morning. I told myself I was foolish for arguing with him because I knew that he could leave me with nothing or send me back to where I had been before as soon as the idea struck him. But he could be so stupid! And my temper had always had a tendency to get the better of me.
The first time Oliver hit me, I cried until I couldn't anymore. Not because it hurt or because I hadn't expected it of him, but because everything had been so beautiful at first. He had been the one pure thing in my life that I had thought was going to make everything else in it better, and instead it had turned into this ugly mess. It was just like when I had allowed myself to hope for the best when I was first locked up in the asylum. A lot of good it had done me. I promised myself I would never be so incompetent again.
When I discovered the pregnancy, I did my best to hide it from him. It worked: he never knew about the baby—when he left me, it was entirely because of me and knowing this sent a thousand different ways to kill myself racing through my head, but I didn't. I couldn't. There was the child, and I would be damned if I was going to give up on this child the same way my mother had given up on me.
Fortunately, I had begun churning out letters to my sister practically the minute Oliver had gotten me out of the asylum. My nerves told me that she and her husband would be reluctant to take in a lunatic who was unmarried and with child, but I knew that Alice was a good woman. She wouldn't turn me away.
I hated Crythin Gifford and Eel Marsh House, I persevered for the sake of my child. It was my last hope for something pure.
I didn't realize I had dozed off until I was woken up by the sound of footsteps skittering backward and a surprised gasp. I was startled enough to stand up abruptly, but I caught myself before I voiced the multiple oaths that sprang to mind.
"—very sorry, Miss Humfrye, I wasn't expecting to see you there at this hour," Arthur Kipps was saying. "You frightened me a bit."
I restrained myself from raising my eyebrows. It wasn't the first time I had 'startled' him just by turning up. "Mr. Kipps, you really can't stand the sight of me can you?"
He started to stammer some explanation, but I cut him off with a wave of my hand. Alice or her husband must have said something to him about my having been locked up, for him to be so skittish of me. I didn't care what his opinion was, but I still felt rather stung; why didn't they just make the announcement to the entire village while they were at it?
"You couldn't sleep either, I suppose?" I asked, hoping to divert the conversation to a topic less sore.
"No," he admitted. "I thought walking around might help a bit. This house…"
He trailed off, but I found myself nodding. "I hate it too. I can't fathom why they bought it."
"The architecture, perhaps? I wouldn't know. I'm not much for the craft myself. It—It is a very inconvenient location, isn't it?"
"Extremely. God knows what idiot had the idea of building this house here."
"I hadn't thought of that. You're right."
"I keep telling them they would be better off finding a new one, but of course they won't. One day someone is going to drown on that causeway and it will be entirely their fault for not listening to me."
Mr. Kipps didn't respond. He had gone rather pale.
I sighed, cursing myself. Young ladies weren't supposed to have such morbid thoughts. It was saying things like that that had gotten me put away in the first place. I tried changing the subject again: "How do you find Crythin Gifford, Mr. Kipps?"
"It's a fine village." He was a bad liar. My disbelief must have shown because he proceeded to explain, "That is, it isn't such a bad place to live. I suppose. But the weather is rather dreary, and the people rather hostile."
I blinked in surprise. "You don't say. I had the same impression, but one would expect them to be hostile to me. It makes less sense if they are to you." Unless he was also carrying an illegitimate child. Not likely.
"I—well, not so much lately. It was worse before…" for a moment, he looked like he was going to offer more of an explanation, but he closed his mouth limply, leaving me somewhat curious.
Some greyish light was beginning to spill over the windowsill. "You had better get back to bed, Mr. Kipps," I advised. "You'll have to be leaving for your office in no more than an hour or two."
He turned to go, but turned back after a pause. "You should get some sleep as well."
"I'll go in a minute," I promised, but after he left I sat back down. There was definitely something strange about Arthur Kipps, something he was hiding, but then again, I had my secrets too. He was tense and awkward, but I decided that he wasn't so bad when he actually spoke, though I still wanted to know why he chose to stay here. He was far too normal for this place.
So, I'm just gonna point out that some of the stuff in this chapter would never have happened in this time period. Jennet, a single lady, most likely wouldn't have been allowed to be alone with any man, either as a rich girl or a mental patient, but historical accuracy is the sacrifice I'm making in order for Jennet and Arthur to have bro time. Please tell me what you think!