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Miss Lister's Christmas Carol
By Aimée


24th of December [Halifax] Journal entry

A remarquably fine, icy day. This morning, helped my aunt with the last of the preparations for tomorrow, although my heart is too full of loneliness to rejoice. Nevertheless, I consulted with her about the dinner menu & helped deck the hall with greenery. This afternoon, wrote a letter to M- and walked to town to order a copy of Dr Johnson's Prayers & Meditations.

When I came back, the weather felt colder than when I had started & indeed it had dropped to Fahr. 28° at 8 pm. I had lost myself among the books & had spent more time there than I thought. I arrived at Shibden to be greeted by Marian in a foul mood & even my aunt & uncle displeased. They had invited Mr & Mrs Baxter & the Misses Andrews for dinner & everyone had been waiting for me. I had been fighting a northern gale the whole way back & was cold and exhausted, in no mood for guests. Most uncharacteristically for me, I snapped at my aunt & declared I would not join them for dinner. They could do as they pleased & so could I – I would not be dictated my conduct in my own home. I immediately regretted my outburst but could not bring myself to apologise & stalked off to my room. These fits of temper are becoming all too frequent. Marian & I have always been at odds but I seem to rise to the bait all too often these days & I know my aunt disapproves. I would never forget myself if I made her sick by my ill-humour & yet I cannot help it.

Had a little soup & ham up in my room & now wish I had not since it sits heavily on my stomach. Tonight more than ever I mourn my solitude & yet in my melancholy mood I have no wish to socialise. The follies of Yuletide I gladly leave to others – rich food and lewd humour do not agree with me & such revelries are better suited to the lower classes, even if they can usually scarcely afford them & end up in debtors' prison in the new year. It seems that those who do not have any are all too ready to spend money.

I cannot help thinking that I will remain alone forever & that despairs me. I thought Miss Walker could be the perfect companion for me, but last time we met, she tormented me to tears. She wants me & wants me not at the same time. She does not seem immune to my charms but is she the companion I desire? Would it be unwise to settle for someone who does not appear to know her own mind, since she both respond to my advances and cool my ardours in the same week? I do not know. We argue & quarrel & I cannot make her see the wisdom of us living together as a couple. She is haunted by the idea of sin & when I think we have gone forward she takes two steps back. She has never refused me money & this might be why I cannot walk away, but I truly believe I would want her if she was penniless, although it would be folly for me to choose a companion without means. She had beguiled me in the most innocent of ways & in her presence I forget how to behave civilly. I pressed her again for an engagement two days ago & might have been too forceful & insensitive. I mentioned how M- & Mrs Barlow would have married me readily & tried everything to get a reaction from her – I am ashamed of myself now, & I fear my behaviour may be unforgettable. Miss Walker asked me to leave & refused to look at me. We parted in anger & I now regret my words & everything.

The sky is sombre & starless tonight & tis then the hour when sprites and witches go abroad and thin shiv'ring ghosts from yawning charnels throng and dance with silent sweep the shaggy vaults along. The rushlight no match for the coldness of the room or the terrors of the dark. I keep almost involuntarily looking round, as if expecting to see some apparition standing by. Whatever people may say, I believe there are few minds at all times capable of resisting impressions of this kind. What must be his terrors whose conscience is forever upbraiding him with acts of villainy? I shall go to bed & hope for sleep to let me drift into oblivion.

Stave I

I woke up with my heart pounding and an icy shiver running down my spine. The fire had died and the room's usual draughts suddenly seemed to have multiplied. I rose and went to the window, but although I could feel the chill underneath it felt no more cold than on any other day. I seized the pistol I keep in the bedside table, mocking myself while doing so – there was neither foe nor friend in the bedroom, only my too fertile imagination and my upset stomach which must have woken me from my slumber. Maybe a rat or a bat had disturbed the quietness of the place. Seeing nothing, I returned to my bed and slipped under the covers, wishing I had someone there to keep me company. Tib would have come, had I asked her – she would have welcomed the invitation, but I had grown weary of her. My thoughts now flew everyday to the lovely Miss Walker, as flighty as she may seem. I closed my eyes and imagined my hands on her waist, slowly gliding under her petticoats… A draught stronger than the others pierced my nightclothes and interrupted my musings. My head sprang up and I saw... No, it could not be – she was … She was dead and had been for near forty years. We had been made to sit in a vigil for her in the school chapel, her cold body lying in an open coffin before the altar. And yet there she stood before me, no older than the twelve years she had been at the time of her death, a strange, transparent shade hovering in my bedroom.

"Who – who are you?" asked I in a shaky voice, feeling exceedingly foolish.

"Don't you know me, Anne?" replied the Spirit, and sure enough, the voice was the same, too.

"I – I … You cannot be!" I was shaking all over and chastising myself for being afraid of figments of my imagination – I did not believe in ghosts.

"I am – or rather I was, Jacobina Marley, your schoolmate."

"What – what do you want with me?" I reached for the bedcovers and wrapped myself in them, cursing the light supper & port I had had before bed – an upset stomach was surely making my senses weak. I was not talking with a ghost.

"I am here to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate."

"Your fate? But …But – I don't understand!" By then I was nearly frightened out of my wits but tried to maintain a calm composure. My mind went back to my schooldays, when I had met Jacobina. She had been a year younger than I, a very pretty child with a milky-white complexion and fair locks. It had not taken me more than a few days to feel attracted to her. I scarce understood my feelings then, but I endeavoured to be with her as much as I could and to protect her if necessary. Indeed, I incurred several punishments for having defended her too fiercely against our English mistress, who thought Jacobina misspelt words on purpose. The mistresses did not look favourably on our friendship and attempted to separate us, but I found ways of disobeying. One day, after I had been sent to isolation for two days as punishment for a small misdemeanour, I sought her out at dinner but could not see her. I enquired about her but was told sharply that I could not see her as she was in the sick bay. They underestimated me – I snuck in and remained a little by her side, murmuring soothing words of undying devotion. When I was discovered at her bedside, I got soundly shaken and threatened with another stay in isolation, but the housemistress relented faced with my obvious distress at seeing my little friend like that. In my dormitory that night, I never got a minute of sleep. The next morning, the headmistress gathered us all into the hall and announced that influenza had taken Jacobina – she had died in the early morning hours, at thirteen years old. For months I had felt guilty about her death, as if somehow my feelings had brought her demise. Another gust of icy air brought me back to reality, or to what I had now convinced myself must be a vivid nightmare.

The Ghost spoke again: "You'll be haunted by three Spirits. Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell tolls One. Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"

It then moved to the window and I felt compelled to get out of bed and follow it. The window had come open and Jacobina disappeared in the dark night in a rush of wind. I closed the window and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. I tried to say "Humbug!" but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion I had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or my glimpse of the Invisible World, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.

Stave II

When I woke up the next morning, I started to cry – I fell out of sorts and my head ached with a dull thundering. I chided myself for the tears – I had no reason to feel bereft. I had a family of sorts – my good aunt and uncle were dear people and I was not alone in the world. And yet my nightmare had greatly disturbed me. I glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece – twelve o'clock. That wasn't possible – I had read well into the early hours of the morning. Could I have slept until noon? Could a whole day have passed? I had been so tired…But when I looked outside, the grounds and the valley remained in darkness. I could probably get a few more hours of sleep. Head on my pillow, I could not help but remember the Ghost's words…three Spirits… The first one at one o'clock. Rubbish! That must have been a spirit talking indeed – the one she had emptied a glass of before going to bed.

When the bells of the church rang one, I bolted up in my bed as a strange light illuminated her bedroom. And then I saw it. It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers.

"Samuel!" I exclaimed. I cannot explain how I knew it was him, because the ghost resembled my brother as a child and I had been but a child myself then, but I recognised his features in the strange apparition.

"I am the Spirit whose coming was foretold to you – I am the Spirit of Christmas Past."

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

"Long past?"

"No – your past."

I wondered just exactly what and how much I had drunk – port had never affected me like that before.

"Rise, and walk with me!" said the Spirit, beckoning to me.

It would have been in vain for me to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that I was clad but lightly in her slippers and dressing-gown I rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, I tried to remonstrate with him.

"This is madness indeed, Spirit – I have no wings to fly!"

"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon its heart, "and you shall be upheld in more than this!"

I took a leap of faith then and followed, and the next thing I knew I found myself standing in a chapel where only a few candles burnt bright and the rest of the place lay in darkness. When my eyes got used to the obscurity, I realised I knew that chapel well, and had spent many hours there once upon a time. Especially during a long, dark winter of my childhood, when I had persuaded myself my family had forgotten all about me and I would remain at school forever. All the other girls had left to spend Christmas at home and no one had come to fetch me. I had had no explanations as to why I had thus been abandoned and had imagined all sorts of things. Indeed, as I now peered into the darkness, I saw a forlorn little figure hunched in one of the pews, her head buried in her hands, murmuring inaudible prayers. I did not hear to hear them, though, because my memory had kept their content intact. I had convinced myself I must have had committed a terrible sin to be punished by exile and I had prayed every day to be forgiven. At night, I had cried myself to sleep, alone in my tiny freezing attic room. When the other girls had come back, however, it had been my turn to go home – I had caught pneumonia and – with insight, I now know they feared me dying at the school. I had not died but I had remained an invalid for several weeks, and only when I had recovered fully did my parents tell me that my brother John had died that winter. He had not been a year old, and pneumonia had spared me but had taken him.

After a few minutes, the chapel faded and I found myself in another church, a larger and grander one. There I sat in one of the pews, flanked by Mrs Barlow on my right and her daughter Jane on my left. They had both dressed up for the midnight mass at St Sulpice and I knew that under their pelisses and fur they had both worn their best dresses. I had worn my usual black silk dress, plain but elegant, and one of the hats I had bought in Paris, Mrs Barlow having deemed mine unsuitable. My mind had not been too much on the priest's words that night, although his latin had been tolerable and his sermon erudite, as one would expect from a Jesuit. Mrs Barlow's hand slipping discreetly in mine had given me others, and I must confess, much unsuitable thoughts for the occasion. We all rose when the priest blessed us and the doors were pushed open, the light of the many candles spreading on the parvis where a merry crowd exchanged good wishes of "joyeux Noël". I was in a hurry to go back to our little apartment where a reveillon supper would be waiting. Mrs Barlow had kept to the custom of her childhood spent in Provence, and although I had been much interested in the meaning of the dishes, my appetite had not been satisfied. The tradition wanted that one had a souper maigre before going to mass, made of seven dishes symbolising the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, followed by thirteen desserts representing the apostles and Jesus Christ. We had cabbage soup, celery with anchovy paste, escargots, another vegetable soup, and cod with spinach, all quite tasteless, I must say.

When we arrived home, we ate again – at two in the morning, a most unhealthy hour for digestion, and though I had been hungry during the mass, I could not manage more than a few mouthfuls of roast pheasant and potatoes. I had my reward afterwards, however, when Mrs Barlow let me into her bed, and I soon diverted her of her petticoats. My hand wandered on her thighs and above, and since she did not push me away, I got my middle finger up her and grubbled her good and hard. She was wetter than before and I believe I gave her much pleasure. After she fell asleep next to me, I remained awake and imagined myself married to her. Jane seemed to like me well enough and I would have a family of my own…

As I remembered how Mrs Barlow and I had finally argued long and hard about her possible place with me – she did not want to be my mistress and could not imagine us married. I therefore had to make a decision, and though at that time I had thought it was the best one, I now regret it. Solitude does not suit me and Mrs Barlow would have been an agreeable enough companion…

""Spirit!" said I in a broken voice, "remove me from this place."

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

"Remove me!" I exclaimed. "I cannot bear it!"

And then I found myself back in my room, a little dizzy. I felt overcome with drowsiness, and slipped back into bed…

Stave III –

When I woke up for the second time as the church bells struck one once more, I was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and nothing between a baby and a rhinoceros would have astonished me very much. Now, being prepared for almost anything, I was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, I was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, I laid upon the bed, the very core and centre of a blaze of ruddy light, which streamed upon it and which being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts, as I was powerless to make out what it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive that I might be at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous combustion, without having the consolation of knowing it. At last, however, I began to think—at last, I say, I began to think that the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room: from whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of my mind, I got up softly and went to the door. The moment my hand was on the handle, a voice called me by my name, and bade me push it. I obeyed.

I went downstairs to the hall – it was Shibden, there was no doubt about it – but the shabby room I so often bemoaned had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in my time, or for many and many a winter season gone.

On the old sofa had been piled soft throws, books and sweetmeats in golden paper and on the pile sat…

"Your Majesty!", I gasped, sinking in a deep curtsey and feeling most awfully foolish for doing so in my nightclothes. Queen Mary of Denmark, in my home! This time there surely could be no mistake, and yet the incongruity of the tableau irked my senses. I dared not raised my eyes at first, and only when she bade me look at her did I do so. She was clothed in a simple deep green robe bordered with white fur. On her head sat a crown of holly with shining icicles, and in her hand she held a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn.

"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in! and know me better!"

I rubbed my eyes and murmured: "This must be a dream – how – what – your Majesty…"

"I am not Mary of Denmark, Miss Lister - I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.

She rose and I felt the irresistible urge to follow her without question.

"Spirit," I said, "conduct me where you will. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."

"Touch my robe!"

I did as I was told and held it fast.

Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, books and throws all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and I found myself in the midst of a joyous assembly. I recognised the Assembly rooms in York, all decked in greenery and gold, and filled with people talking and dancing. A quadrille was in process and suddenly I saw Isabella skimming past me, followed a minute later by her sister Charlotte, both of them in their best finery, laughing as they performed the intricate steps with ease. I had a sudden urge to break through the pattern and to seize Isabella's hand in mine but I had already understood I was to remain an invisible spectator to the scene. And so I had to endure Isabella – my Tib – drifting away at the end of the dance with an unknown lady who seemed very much taken by my friend...

The ballroom vanished abruptly before my eyes and I again became a silent observer to another gay scene – I knew the place well, even though I had not been welcome there for some time. I recognised the servant standing unobtrusively with a tray of champagne glasses, the dog cosily nestled by the hearth, oblivious of the hubbub of the guests, and the velvet divan I had so often sat on with Marianna. Only this time the hand that lingered on the mistress of the house's thigh was not my own but her husband's. Charles sported a satisfied air and Marianna, although, I believe, not as gay-looking as when she was with me, looked quite happy and contented. The pain this scene caused me elicited a low moan and I felt tears spring to my eyes.

My vision blurred and by the time I had dried my eyes, the scene had changed again and I found myself once more in a place I also knew well - a dining-room, with a cosy fire and a table spread with fine china and many appetising dishes. There sat Miss Walker, looking as if she had not a care in the world, talking and laughing with a handsome gentleman sitting on her left. I had lost hope of her giving me a positive answer, and yet the sight of her gaiety tore at my heart. She had been smiling and chatting with me like this but two weeks ago, and I had to admit to myself I missed her greatly. She had accepted my friendship and my advances and given nothing in return but a few flimsy words. I had held her in my arms and wooed her with all my might and yet she could not pledge herself to me. That she apparently did not miss me wounded me so much I had to divert my eyes. And yet, something compelled me to look back at her – I filled my eyes with the wonders of her decolletage and imagined my hands caressing her alabaster skin... As I kept staring at her, I noticed that what I had at first taken for gaiety may have been only superficial, and that there were moments when she retired into herself and a wistful expression appeared in her eyes. Was she thinking about me, I wondered? Or was she still tormented by the fear of a godly retribution for her feelings towards me? Did she still wonder about whether our union would be against nature? Or was I misreading the look in her eyes?

The Spirit noticed a few members of that gay assembly which did not seem to have such a good time as the others – quieter, withdrawn and she sprinkled a few drops from her torch on them…their good humour was restored directly. I looked at him in puzzlement: "Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?"

"There is. My own."

"Would it apply to anyone on this day?" asked I.

"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."

"And yet some of us have suffered in your name – some of us have lost what we held dearest, and have found no appeasement. And worse than our personal woes are the wars that devastate countries, poverty which claims lives and dignities, illness which rob people of their will to live."

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

Ad she spoke, the dining-room disappeared and I beheld through a window another cosy family gathering. This time children sat with the grown-ups in the drawing-room, a little girl in her best party dress and two little boys in velvet suits. An older girl was playing the piano and singing, and a baby sat on his mother's knees. The whole scene exuded so much comfort and joy that I hardly noticed who was there, so taken was I by the tableau. I finally realised that the dotting mother was Vere, not much changed from when I had last seen her, although her face and figure had got rounder with the gift of motherhood. Seeing her so obviously happy and peaceful with her family made me both envious and curiously relieved. I could never have given her this, and if motherhood was her true calling, I had to forgive her for having yielded to the temptation of a regular wedding.

It was a long night, if it were only a night; but I had my doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time we passed together. I felt herself cheering up a little and would gladly have remained a little longer staring through the window at the happy family, but I noticed that while I remained unaltered in my outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. I looked at her worriedly – was I going to be torn from what may be the only gay moment of that extraordinary experience?

"Are spirits' lives so short?" asked I.

"My life upon this globe, is very brief," replied the Ghost. "It ends to-night."

"To-night!" I cried.

"To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near."

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said I, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange in your pocket – may I ask what it is?"

The Spirit reached in her gown and took out what looked like a heart pierced with a broken arrow: "This is Lost Love – all the what may have been and never will. Remember that we must all look towards the future..."

I looked at her aghast and the bell struck twelve. The Ghost disappeared and I found myself once more in my own bedroom. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, I remembered the prediction, and lifting up my eyes, I beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards me.

Stave IV

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near me, I backed away, for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. Its mysterious presence filled me with a solemn dread. I knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?" I asked.

The Spirit answered not but pointed onward with its hand.

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," I pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?"

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer I received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, I feared the silent shape so much that my legs trembled beneath me, and I found that I could hardly stand when I prepared to follow it.

"Ghost of the Future!" I exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another woman from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"

It gave me no reply. The hand was pointed straight before us.

"Lead on!" said I. "Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!"

The scene I was taken to did nothing to dispel the gloom. I recognised the graveyard of our church, and saw a small – a very small – gathering around a freshly dug grave. Two people – servants, by the look of their clothing – stood by silently. Their master or mistress had not apparently bothered to get them mourning attire and they wore their everyday dirty garments. The priest gabbled a few prayers hurriedly over a shabby wooden coffin – not quite a pauper's funeral as the deceased had his own coffin, but a very poor ceremony all the same. No one seemed unduly bereaved either, and as the coffin was – well, discarded – in the grave, I overheard a little of the servants' conversation.

"For all her fine friends, she finally dies alone!"

"She was always a queer one – spent all her money and naught remaining for a proper send-off..."

"Saves us the bother. Let's go back to the hall – maybe we can get something to sell – not her old books, wouldn't be worth any, but there must be something."

I bristled at their dismissal of books but they were uneducated people and could have no idea of the value of knowledge. I had however more than a fellow feeling for the poor lady that laid in the grave – I could imagine no saddest fate than dying alone and unloved. The company of books could alleviate many sorrows but solitude wounded one to one's utmost core. At the same time, I wondered about the identity of that poor lonely soul. No tombstone on the grave yet, but a piece of wood had been negligently planted on the freshly dug earth. A sense of dread filled me as I came closer and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, as if I was approaching my own doom. I bent over the grave to read the scribble on the wood and when I had deciphered the words, I fell to my knees, overcome by great sobs. The dates were unclear but I had seen my year of birth and my name.

"Am I the woman lying there, Spirit?" I appealed to the figure standing ominously beside me. The finger pointed from the grave to me, and back again.

"No, Spirit! Oh no, no!"

The finger still was there.

Distraught, I looked at the Spirit which was watching her silently, and reached out to him: "I am not the woman I was. I will not be the woman I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope? I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may change this fate!"

In my agony, I saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down, and finally faded in the wall.

Stave V

I looked around me. The bed was my own, the room was my own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before me was my own, to make amends in! . "I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" I repeated as I scrambled out of bed. "The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me."

I noticed my face was wet with tears, and yet I felt lighter and happier than I had been in several weeks. Because I knew what I had to do. What I didn't know was what day it was – how long had my travels with the Spirits taken? I got up and splashed icy water on my face to dispel the traces of tears. On my way to my washbasin, I touched several things in the room to make sure I was really back in my own home, in my own time. My journal, my books, the ring I have bought for Miss Walker – sure enough, those were real. I put on my black silk – it always gave me confidence and took a deep breath before going downstairs. The hall bore no trace of last night's revelry and luxury & the fire in the hearth was its usual shallow one. I shivered and made my way to the morning room, where I found my family at breakfast. I dared not asked what day it was, but my aunt's "Merry Christmas" relieved me of my doubt – it was Christmas day after all. I sat down in my usual seat and took a sip of tea before clearing my throat. Everyone stopped eating and stared at me, and before I lost my nerve, I blurted out that I wanted to apologise for my rude behaviour the previous day and that I would try to keep my temper in check henceforward. Marian huffed and I had to bite my tongue not to make a comment, but my aunt opened her arms and I took refuge in them for a brief moment.

After breakfast – two pieces of toast, one egg, two cups of tea – I took care to tell my aunt I was going to Lidgate to see Miss Walker and that I would not be late home. I walked faster than usually to keep my nerves in check and had to pause outside for a minute to catch my breath and still my heart. I then rang the bell and waited very properly. The maid told me Miss Walker was still in bed and was not receiving visitors but I ignored her and went directly upstairs. I knocked. Miss Walker thought it was the chambermaid, and without turning bade me "Light it quickly, it is freezing in here, Jane!" I went to the fireplace and rekindled the fire before throwing two more logs into the hearth. I must have made more noise than Jane because Miss Walker did turn then.

"Anne! What are you doing here?"

"I cannot let you freeze to death, my love – I am more than able to light a fire."

"You know very well that's not what I mean!" she said exasperatedly.

"I'm sorry – please let me explain – I…"

I crossed the room in two steps and knelt beside her bed – I would rather have lain down with her on the bed, but I feared she would throw me out. I thus contented myself with taking her hand in mine and pressing it against my cheek. I lowered my eyes and told her what I had come to say: "I have behaved abominably towards you, and I hope you will accept my apology. Please believe that my anger was not directed against you but against the circumstances that try to alienate us. I am yours and only yours, and if you would only commit yourself to me, I would cherish you until the end of my days." I dared not look at her but felt in my pocket for the ring I had ordered for her and offered it to her. She gasped and bent over to kiss my forehead. I gently took the ring back and slid it on her finger. Then, as she remained speechless, keeping her hand in mine, I slowly felt her over her chemise. I felt her beginning to tremble and emboldened, I reached underneath and caressed her thighs, reached her queer… She laid in my arms that night. I grubbled her well enough and she seemed well satisfied. I should not take her love for granted, and treat her better for now on. I think I am falling in love with her, and thinking like a lover, or like an ass: I suppose it is pretty nearly the same. The more I thought, the more perplexed I was; and the more I endeavoured not to think, the more I thought.


The End

"A heart well worth winning, and well won. A heart that, once won, goes through fire and water for the winner, and never changes, and is never daunted." ~ Our Mutual Friend

"I cannot help it; reason has nothing to do with it; I love her against reason--but who would as soon love me for my own sake, as she would love the beggar at the corner." ~ Our Mutual Friend

You have no idea what it is to have anybody wonderful fond of you, unless you have been got down and rolled upon by the lonely feelings that I have mentioned as having once got the better of me. ~ Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions

"But I am thinking like a lover, or like an ass: which I suppose is pretty nearly the same." ~ Nicholas Nickleby

Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to the growth of love, but they are, very often, its powerful auxiliaries. ~ Nicholas Nickleby

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