A Devastating Circumstance.

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Wake up, Miss. Please wake up.

“Wake up, Miss! Wake up! For goodness sake, wake up.”

Anna didn’t want to wake up. Not yet. She needed to know more, to feel more of this wondrous, intimate sensation that was happening to her, but she was being given no choice.

Anna sat up reluctantly, frustrated and angry, feeling him leaving her body, fighting to get this unwelcome change away from her so she could get back into that dream, to have him continue doing that to her, and to find out more about what had been happening to her. She needed to know.

Hetty was sitting on the bed beside her, holding her, shaking her. Samson had his front feet on the bed, licking at her hands; never seeing his mistress in this kind of difficulty before, and concerned for her.

“Wake up, Miss. Please wake up. I knew I should never have left you alone this first night.”

Anna was perspiring; breathing as though she had been unable to draw breath, and now could, fighting for air as she recovered from that strange dream, and her eyes were wild.

She was still half in her dream, still feeling what had been happening to her; strange and pleasurable as it had been, but at the same time, unthinkable. It might take her minutes to wake up properly, when all she wanted to do was to go back into that dream.

It was dark, and Anna did not immediately recognize where she was, but she knew, Hetty.

“Hetty. Where am I?”

“You are in your bed, Miss, and dreaming like I never saw before. The dog came and got me and would not leave me alone until I came along to you, and I’m glad he did. He would not even give me a moment to throw anything about myself either. He wouldn’t let me, but took hold of my nightdress and pulled until I came, I would have lost it altogether if I had held back. When he makes up his mind, he’s like a man. No stopping him!

Anna could identify with that, but that interesting interlude was receding from her, and she didn’t want to see it go.

“You should not have awoken me, Hetty. I was so close…” her words tapered off.

‘Close to what?’ Hetty looked blank, trying not not understand what Anna was saying.

“I had to wake you, Miss, but I had to get a candle lit. You was moaning and whimpering in a strange kind of way. I had to wake you up.”

Anna did not try to explain what her feelings on that still were; remembering very clearly what had been happening to her, but it was not something she could discuss with Hetty.

Hetty knew the meaning of those particular sounds she’d heard. They were the sounds that a woman made when a man got too close to her in that special way that men had, and just as they were both getting to that final, feverish pitch with each other after he’d discovered that very private place on her and had eagerly invaded it, with her approval and help.

Hetty tingled, recalling that feeling for herself, from first-hand experience in a former life, where there had once been a man.

There had been just such a man in Miss Anna’s life too, and not so long ago. Hetty had seen evidence of that, with that hair having gone; and now she’d heard evidence of it too, the way Miss Anna had been moaning. You didn’t dream about that intense moment unless you’d experienced it first hand in real life.

What else was there left to discover?

Anna would never choose to speak of it, if she even remembered.

A man had certainly got into her life, and into another personal place too.

She’d better not think about that, but would keep her eyes open. Others had already seen the changes in Miss Anna, but didn’t know what Hetty now knew.

Well, never mind that. But in Anna’s case it was a man only in her head this time, and not in bed with her as she’d half expected after hearing those sounds, except Samson would have soon dealt with him.

Unless he’d been well-known to Samson. And that, seemed likely.

“My mother, Miss, was a great one for interpreting dreams.” She began to feel better, now that Anna seemed more, herself, though unlikely to want to tell her anything about that dream.

“I’ll light some more candles and make up that fire again. There is nothing like light, to dispel those darker shadows from the mind, and we have to get you properly woke up or you might just go back into that same dream.”

Anna, hoped so, but Hetty was not going to leave her alone for a while.

“There was a part, earlier in that dream, where I was fighting for breath, Hetty, like I was drowning. I was taken back to a time when I was a girl on the ice on the Thames; that year when it froze over. I was on a roundabout, on one of those wooden horses. And I heard the ice breaking… and then I was on another horse, on Peony.”

She said nothing about being in a race, or that she had been naked, and laughing with enjoyment, or that a naked man had been chasing her on another horse. Some parts of certain dreams, one did not share, and this one was now well behind her. She was not likely able to remember enough of it to get back into it as she would have liked.

Anna thought for a few moments as Hetty fussed around her with her pillows. “But it wasn’t that either. I am getting all jumbled up in one dream or another. I am not sure what was happening, but I had the sensation of being swallowed up by the river, and it was dreadful cold.”

Hetty threw some more coals on the fire and poked some life back into it. She’d better not say what was on her mind.

“You may be coming down with a chill, Miss. We don’t know where you were, or if you were being well-looked-after or not, though it seemed like you was. You should have let me call the doctor in.”

“I did not catch a chill, Hetty. I do not have a temperature, nor am I cold now, but warm. And I do not need a doctor.” That was emphatic.

Hetty would not go against Anna’s wishes.

“What you described, about the ice cracking on the Thames and swallowing someone up, occurred right enough on the river one year, Miss. I’m surprised you remembered that or heard of it. It didn’t happen to you, but did, to others.”

She touched Anna’s brow to make sure she was not feverish.

“We tend to dream about things that frighten us one way or another when they prey on our minds. I remember what happened, just like it was yesterday, and you probably heard about it too. It was reported in the Gazette; but just a small piece about them.

“There were a couple of young daredevils decided—they were drunk, of course—to go and see the river, rushing like a mill-race beneath the piers of the bridge when the tide turned. The silly devils got too close to the edge, daring each other as youths will.

“The ice gave way under them and pulled them in, and they got taken under the ice with no way of ever getting out. Others said they could see them hammering on the underside of the ice, trying to break up through it as they got carried down. It gave people nightmares for weeks that did. It did me, and I only heard about it from others.

“Those boys were never found. No one even knew their names, poor souls. They must have been provincials who were in town to see the sights. Some mothers somewhere were grieving, and wondering where their boys were.”

Still wondering.

“That prayed on my mind too for a while, and it must have done the same on yours, with you being so young and not used to such things, even if you just heard about it like I did.”

Anna decided not to tell her that the dream she’d had, had not been about that at all, but had been very different. It had not been winter either, but just a couple of weeks earlier when it was still very warm, and it was just after she had first ridden away on Peony, but that dream had moved along very fast, for them—her and that man, whoever he was—to have got so far with each other as it seemed they had. Unless, that too, was a dream, cooked-up by her own yearnings and imaginings; stoked up by what she witnessed almost every day, of the raw goings-on around the farm.

She would need to think about it for herself, except it seemed to be fading already, and now she was back in familiar, comfortable surroundings, back in her own bed with the fire made up again, and that dream too far gone now, to recover it.

Hetty was passing her some of that milk she’d brought up for her earlier. She’d lit more candles too.

Samson settled back down, having learned already that he could trust Hetty not to harm his mistress.

“I’ll sit with you for a while if you don’t mind, Miss, until you go to sleep again. I don’t think any of the rest of the house was disturbed, though I heard you, well enough when I got half-way along the corridor, and Samson here, not letting go of me.

“He came and woke me up, but how did he know to do that I wonder? He’s well named too. There was no arguing with him when he latched onto my nightdress the way he did.”

The dog had gone back to lying by the fire, but was still wide awake and attentive to everything.

But for Samson, and the ring on her finger, and the other Jewelry that she could see, nothing Anna had been told about the last two weeks while she had been somewhere else, would have been believable at just that moment.

“I wish I understood more about dreams than I do.”

“Aye. There is a lot of things occur in dreams that defy explanation. That man with that strange name; Greek, I think; Arry, something or other, wrote about them.”

‘Aristotle.’ But Anna did not tell her that name.

“My mother was a great one for digging meaning out of them. She told me that a dream is a sleeping expression of one’s deepest fears or deepest desires, and it were usually best to leave them as dreams. Safer too. You don’t need to go digging into some of those buried thoughts. Better to leave them buried and out of sight.

“Night time, and the darkness, is when the devil does his most devious work if he can get into our minds.” The same was true of most men, but men had a more interesting target in mind.

“Old Nick wasn’t in mine, Hetty.”

Maybe not, but there had been something happening in there that only a married woman should know anything about.

Hetty resolved to bring another wooden cross up, to put onto the wall at the head of the bed.

Anna could not help but wonder what it meant, her riding naked, and laughing at having a man, also naked, following her as he had been doing. What would Aristotle say about that? If he even dealt with such delicate matters.

She was often without clothes in her dreams; part of an ongoing fear of her being seen naked. She was always terrified of waking up and finding that it was not a dream at all, but that she really had appeared at one of her birthday parties, forgetfully parading about the house without covering upon herself of any kind, but could see that everyone was ignoring her as though she were not there and, thankfully, did not see her, or pass comment upon her nakedness.

She’d been sixteen at the time when those dreams began, and was mortified that it might actually have happened for her to remember that, or it was a portent of something yet to happen.

She had been thankful to wake up and see that she was still in her bed, and still in her night clothes. No one said anything about her running about the house without clothes, so it cannot have happened to her, but it was a recurring dream; not often, but often enough for her to relive that discomfort again.

She could not discuss it with Hetty.

Her mother had triggered that dream in her frustration with getting Anna dressed, telling her that if she did not stand still and let her adjust her dress and make a few changes, she might just as well appear without it; naked, as one of her relatives (one of the Tremayne girls) had once appeared in company, years before, when she had become annoyed with her mother.

That girl (Stephanie... and she had not come to a good end), had been seven at the time, and had put the house into a pandemonium.

That image had stayed with Anna all of her life. Perhaps that was why she could not easily look at her own body and admire it in a mirror. Trouble, came from that.

Stephanie was Anna’s age now, twenty four, had been married at sixteen, and already had six children.

But that former life had changed for Anna in just the last few days. She was more curious about her own body now than she had ever been before. There was something different about it, and as she saw it.

She saw herself differently. Her breasts were no longer awkward, embarrassing things that she could never adequately hide, but something soft, desirably artistic in some way--pleasant to touch--and the rest of her body was the same, but not in an unflattering way, and not as those male artists tended to depict the female body--plump and with too-small breasts--but there was something sensuous about it. She needed to know more of her own body.

She had unconsciously touched and held her breasts, admiring them in her mirror before she had retired last night, and she had smoothed her hands down her exposed body from waist to hips, to the outside of her legs and then had returned to touch herself where there had once been hair. It seemed no longer wrong, to know herself there. she needed to know more of her own body after all of these years of being taught that it was wrong to be curious about certain things.

She brought her mind back to where she was, and the time.

“What time is it, Hetty?”

“I heard it striking one o’clock, only a couple of minutes ago.”

She watched as Anna turned back her covers and got out of bed.

“There will be no more sleep for me now, for a while. I am too well awake. I need to go outside and clear my head before I will be able to sleep.”

She had a sudden urge to go across to the stable and see Tornado; make sure he was still there, though Samson was here, so the horse would be too, but she had to be sure.

“But, Miss, it’s pitch-black out there, with bats, and vermin everywhere.”

Anna headed for the door, to go downstairs and across to the barn, having no patience with Hetty's fears.

She sighed, seeing that Miss Anna had made up her mind. “Well, you’d better put that wrap on you if you intend to do that, and I’ll get my own. I’ll not let you wander outside alone, I won’t, even if Samson is with you. It gets cool of a night out there, and I don’t want you wandering off in a dream and as near-as-be-damned without clothing to cover you.”

Damnation! Why did Hetty have to say just that? Now, she had this idea implanted in her mind again of her wandering away alone, and without a wrap; indeed, without anything upon her at all. She felt a momentary thrill thinking about that. Had she actually done that... wandered around outside, naked? And someone with her? There was another memory there....

Anna already knew that sometimes, fleeting thoughts such as that one, would always come back to haunt her in her dreams.

“Hetty. I am not likely to do that.”

“Not with Samson with us you won’t. He’s as concerned for you as any of us is. After what he did, dragging me along to your bedroom tonight, I’d not have much fear of you getting lost again.”

She was even patting the dog’s head, and what was surprising, was that he was letting her do that.

“We will walk around the terrace too, Hetty, and appreciate life, and coming as far as we have in the short time we have been here. How time has flown. It is nothing like London, out here.

If you went for a walk in London of a dark night—if you dared do that—all you would sense would be the stench from the river, and the choking stink from all of the fires. And when you got home, your entire visage would be spotted with wet soot, and your handkerchief, held up to your face, would be almost as black. I never did go out after dark at home. There were more dangers there than just smells and soot. A person could be robbed.”

Or worse, if you were a woman.

“I doubt we will disturb anyone if we are quiet about it. We can have a hot cup of tea when we come back in.”

In the scullery, Anna moved the filled kettle, back onto the range and made up the fire. It would be boiling by the time they got back.

Hetty took her arm, seeing a way to give Anna something different to wrap her mind around when she went back to sleep, rather than have her thinking of that man who’d definitely been going at her, whoever he was.

“You should make sure to get your sleep when we get back. You have a busy day ahead of you tomorrow.”

“I do? In what way out of the ordinary?”

Hetty took a deep breath and told her. “Mr. Crabtree moved his visit up. He will be here in the afternoon tomorrow; two weeks earlier than anyone anticipated, so thank god, you got back when you did, or we would have been scrambling with explanations.”

Anna laughed disbelievingly. “Now, you tell me, Hetty? When did you know?”

“Earlier today. A letter came direct from London. Mr. Frith was going to tell you immediately after your family had gone tomorrow, and sit down with you for an hour or two, but he never got chance.”

Anna chuckled, apparently not at all put out to have that shocking news sprung on her. In that other life, just gone, that news would have made a nervous wreck of her.

She braced her shoulders. “No matter, Hetty. Bring him on! I’m ready for him. The books are all up to date and we kept meticulous records."

That, they had.

"I wonder what else could possibly drop on me after the surprises I’ve had?”

Hetty was worried about that too, but couldn’t talk about it.

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