A devastating discovery.
A few days after that meeting, Anna came down ill. Hetty had half expected it. Some of the changes she'd heard and seen, had told their own stories about what had happened to Miss Anna, but it seemed to be happening earlier than usual. It often took several weeks for that female condition to become obvious, if Hetty’s diagnosis was correct about Miss Anna being pregnant.
Anna’s moods had changed; not much, but noticeably, to Hetty’s knowledgeable eyes. The slightest thing could distract her and set her going in one direction, throwing herself into something with energy and fervor, and then the next, she stopped, holding onto something as though she were suddenly ill, and had lost all energy, fighting to maintain focus. Nauseated.
Her appetite changed too.
Hetty noticed that certain smells, or something she saw, had Anna excuse herself, heading out in to the fresh air. It was not hard to guess why.
Hetty knew all about that problem, and she would soon have to broach it with her, if Miss Anna did not come to her first.
Others would soon notice too. There were enough girls here who had gone, or were going through that condition themselves; morning sickness, after that hectic summer to get hay and the early produce harvested; and the other interesting things that had gone along with it, when young people were thrown closely together to work, in warm and tempting conditions.
They had been busy out in the fields with more than just harvesting, and with the weather being as warm as it had been and clothes coming off. The fresh country air and country-living had that effect on a lot of young people-- come spring and summer-- though the need to stay warm in winter, merely changed where, things happened and when; if not their intensity or frequency. If anything, with the longer overnight hours, that intimate activity tended to pick up.
Surely, Anna must know what was causing her illness, and must know what had happened to her at the hands of a man, but probably did not want to admit it, even to herself.
It was strange how a girl caught up in that fix (and there were many of them), denied it vehemently at first, as though it spelled the end of the world for her, which it sometimes did. She never wanted to confess that some man had lifted her dress, got between her legs and had meddled in that furze of hers (to try and put it politely), entertaining himself and her, in that unthinkable way as he’d plumbed her in that little dance of Moll Peatly’s jig, and then leaving her with a lot more presents than she wanted to get saddled with so soon in life.
Not only that, but that girl—if she dared admit it—had enjoyed that strangely intense and shocking attention, learning so much about a man that was new to her, and then going back for more, as the opportunity presented itself for them to be alone and to get excited again as the clothes came off; which was always easy to do in the country.
Returning often enough to that particular well, carried its own hazards, as they soon found out when she missed that usual monthly visitor, giving notice of other changes developing in her body, and that would not be easily stopped, or denied.
There was no easy recovery from that mistake, and no going back to being an innocent and naïve virgin again after that.
It was usually better to admit it had happened right at the beginning and get it out of the way, despite the hurt to one’s standing in their broader society, as well as within the family.
The consequences could get no worse for the poor girl, and she may, if she played her cards right, use that pregnancy to trap a husband; but it took a special kind of woman (aided and abetted by her desperate mother) to take such a risk, and a particularly foolish or forgiving man; or one very much in love, despite that failing with another man, to allow it.
In London society, it was one thing. On the farm, it was very different. There was a different mind-set about such natural things. It was more accepted. It happened!
When you supervised the breeding of the larger animals so often, whether pigs, or cows, or more rarely, horses, it was only natural to get excited and into the mood of things, just watching that intimate process between animals which themselves never saw the need to hide those feelings once they rose to the occasion, and could ignore any number of curious and excited observers who were also getting into the mood of things.
There were few who did not feel something of the deeper stirrings of instinctive lust—transferred by the sheer sexual excitement and unstoppable urges of those animals—settle upon those who watched, and helped.
You could see it building gradually as the watchers’ eyes flitted to others, watching; beginning to feel uncomfortable, with more obvious indicators becoming obvious-- for those who knew what to look for-- and wondering who else, felt as they did. Those feelings were impossible to ignore and were not long being physically expressed between like-minded individuals.
It was always necessary for normal men and women to want to blow-off steam, after watching that excitement, and searching for a place to do so. And those places were many.
You could watch them trickling away after that to those little trysts in the barn, or in the byre, or in a nearby coppice, with clothes soon coming off, before they came back to work some time later with renewed vigor, and a smile on their faces, singing and smiling at each other. Until the next time; which was never far away.
Some of the girls were liberal with their favors at those times, recognizing a need, and were well-appreciated because of it. No shortage of love, on a farm. There was no stigma attached to any supposed moral failing there, as there was in London society. It was not regarded as a moral failing but as a necessary response to what had taken place. The urge to breed was infectious.
This was the country, where manners and everything was different, being closer to nature, and a girl could be married—unofficially—to several men, as often happened aboard a naval ship, where there were a few women—whose presence was never openly acknowledged—and many needful men to be kept happy. Mutiny’s did not generally happen aboard such ships.
In Anna’s case, it seemed very early for her to be coming down with that particular sickness. It had been four weeks since she had gone missing. Unless something had happened before that—though it hadn’t. Hetty would have noticed.
Hetty watched and noted, while saying nothing, but suspected more than she would ever say, so soon. As impossible as it seemed, something unthinkable had happened to her mistress in that brief interval while she had been away, yet Anna did not seem distressed in any way, as a refined young woman would be after realizing what must have happened to her.
Perhaps Anna’s lack of memory was a blessing, and she should not be striving so hard to bring it back.
Hetty often came upon Anna in the study or the library and had difficulty breaking into her thoughts. She was far away in another life and had been unaware, for some moments, that Hetty had been speaking to her. She had even been crying over her reading, without realizing that she had been crying. Hetty’s heart went out to her.
“It’s time we had a talk, you and me, Miss. I can see what’s happening with you. I’m not blind to what is as obvious to me, as the nose on my own face.”
Anna looked up at her.
“I knew you would eventually notice, Hetty. It would be hard not to, I suppose. I was trying not to be obvious to anyone.”
“I know. But everyone here knows by now, though they would never say anything about it to you, so I must.
“I think you should get involved with other things. Get out, more. You also need to drink more than you have been, and you should snack more often too, and not tire yourself out so much. Pregnancy (there, she had now said it) is not the end of the world for you, as it is for some young lasses.”
“When did you first notice that about me, Hetty?” At least she did not try to deny it.
“I didn’t, but I began to suspect when I came upon you in your dream that first night, after Samson dragged me from my bed. I was concerned about what I was hearing, and didn't want to believe it. I half-expected the utterly unthinkable; to find a man in bed with you, considering the excited noises you were making, and I know you saw that change about yourself, with that hair missing from the top of your legs, though who else but me would see that, apart from you? I know what that means.”
A man had got close to her in a special and very attentive way.
“You were with a man, and not in an innocent way either, with that hair gone, and what you did with him, whether you planned it or not, is now going to bear fruit.
Anna chuckled and then laughed, but it was a laugh without humor.
“I didn't plan it, Hetty. It just happened, so it is to be hoped I really am married. The evidence is all there, that I am, married, except for the absence of that man from my life, even if I don't remember much about him, if anything."
It was an oft-told tale. A man did the damage to a vulnerable and naive young woman, and then he moved on, but it was not as simple as that, with Miss Anna.
“What do you remember, Miss?”
Anna had to think about how to answer that question.
“Not much, Hetty, other than those things that come back with those dreams; sketchy and piece-meal, though I’ve been too pre-occupied to give much thought to it for the last few days.
“I know that I found a love that I had not known could exist; the kind of love that I had given up on ever finding, and then after finding it, I lost it again.”
Her eyes, sad, and tear-filled, rose to Hetty, feeling comforted by the look of concern in her companion’s face. Hetty had seen much of the seamier side of life before she'd joined Anna, and would know. She wouldn’t rush into judgement, either.
“Yes. But how did you know, Hetty? And how can I be pregnant? I remember nothing.” She remembered enough.
"The evidence is there for those who know what to look for, Miss, and you may not want to talk about it, but you know more than you are saying, with it locked away up there.” She pointed to Anna’s head.
“Can it be so obvious? But it cannot be. I remember nothing happening that I objected to, or needed to fight against or resist, as we are all taught to do, to protect our reputations. Nothing like that. It is slowly coming back to me in my dreams, if they can be believed, but everything is so unclear and hazy.”
She took a deep breath.
“I remember that I was drowning; that was the sensation that I had, and that a man, riding Tornado, rescued me and took me to a safe place.
“He must have undressed me." Another, unthinkable thing. "He did undress me. I saw my clothes drying by the fire in that dream, and I felt warm, contented, and even happy, lying there with him. He was feeding me, helping me, keeping me warm, kissing me, and I was not objecting to anything."
He'd done a lot more than that too.
“I knew immediately that we belonged to each other, so whatever we did, did not seem wrong, or I would have resisted with all of my strength and my being. Surely, I would have had some more of a recollection of that happening to me. I would know if that… if a man had… I do know what happens; I've seen it often enough around here when I stumble...."
“Yes, Miss, you most certainly would remember that, when it happened to you. You never forget that first time, unless it was important for you not to remember.”
“What do you mean, not to remember, Hetty? Why would I not wish to remember?”
“Our upbringing, Miss, and our mother’s warnings about men and their strange ways, being drummed into us; being made to feel guilty if we even looked at a man for too long, or departed far from what we were told was acceptable behavior. So many difficult things for a girl to struggle with. There are some things we fight not to accept and choose to blot them out; not willing to accept them. And yet….”
“And yet? Please go on, Hetty.”
“When a certain man comes into your life; a special man, like the one you are describing, you need to unlearn all that you were taught by your mother about how to behave. At that time, we need to relearn what then becomes acceptable. It can be very confusing and traumatic, and has seen many a woman fear for her sanity, facing that sudden guilty conflict.
“Men can be devious brutes at times—some men—when they get fixated, and infatuated on us, when they shouldn't, and they set their minds on compromising us or ensnaring us however they can, but they can also be magnificent.
"When the right man comes along, and gets into your head and stirs your emotions, as they often do, then the rules change."
She shook her head. "They certainly change. Some women fight against that change, finding it too confusing, and remain aloof, alone, even in marriage, or they don’t get married. You have to feel sorry for them.” She continued with her observations of life.
“Wiser women accept the change, as their own mothers did, else they would never have been born, and let this strange animal; this man, into their lives and into their beds, and, of course, into their bodies. As you certainly must have done.”
Anna gasped and colored up, at Hetty not mincing her words.
“They welcome him.” As Anna must have done. “It is the way of nature, and of love.”
“And that is what must have happened to me. Except I remember so little, and nothing of him.”
She hesitated, thinking about it all. “If I am not what I once was, and am indeed pregnant, and I believe that I must be; what then?”
“You just have to let it unfold in its own way, Miss. Life still goes on. Out here, as far as we are from society, there is no one to judge you ill, and I am not one to rush to judgment of anyone. I have made enough mistakes of my own.”
“But it cannot just end like that, Hetty. Out there, there is surely someone who is missing a horse, and Samson, and those other things, and who has my horse. He must be missing me too, as much as I miss him. There is someone out there that I need to find out about, and whom I must find before I go insane."
"And you will, Miss. It is already begun, but you are also needed here. We sent notices out about Peony, and then we sent drawings out of your new horse, and the dog; asking for information. Someone, somewhere, will see them. Give it a few more days, Miss. Such an upset as we had will pay its toll upon us all, and things need time to settle down.”
As impossible as it seemed, something wonderful (if she dared think of it that way) had happened to her mistress in that brief interval while she had been away, yet Anna did not seem distressed in any way, as a woman would, realizing what must have happened to her. Perhaps her lack of memory was a blessing, and she should not be striving so hard to bring it back.
“We must hope and pray, Miss, that he is trying to find you. That is the only easy and respectable way out of this, but no one will judge you in any way if it doesn't happen as soon as we would all want, or they’ll have me to deal with.”
“What about Mr. Frith, Hetty? He will need to learn about this too, and then Mr. Crabtree will be informed, and my parents.”
“Don't worry about so many things, Miss. 'Sufficient unto the day'... I always say. Don't go looking for trouble. It will sort itself out soon enough. Men accept these things too easily and flippantly. They cause them, so they have to, and considering how often girls give birth around here, even, I wouldn’t be concerned what he will think. He’s seen enough, and besides, he thinks no one knows it, but he’s ‘tupping’ that eldest daughter of a distant neighbor just as often as he can get over there to lift her dress, unless he meets her over here when she's working, as she does, making cheese—he gets spied on too—though it took a bit of a break with you going missing as you did, so I suppose he’ll glad to be getting back to roosting in that cozy nest of hers. An eager pair they are. I watched 'em once.”
Anna chuckled involuntarily at Hetty’s uncharacteristic, gritty outspokenness. She wouldn't mind watching them, either, but she knew she shouldn't.
“Nothing much escapes anyone’s eyes around here—and it’s just a matter of time before that pair get caught more obviously going at it, or her daddy finds out and puts it on a new footing with a shotgun. Don't be surprised if Mr. Frith comes and tells you that he’s getting married, sudden-like, now that he’s landed on his feet, so don’t think what’s happened to you is isolated, because it isn’t. What's more, I'd be prepared to wager that their first one, like yours, will be a month or two early. It's only the babies after the first one that go full term."
Anna was not sure how they could both laugh at that, but they did. It was true what they said about 'misery', liking company, but she didn't feel miserable, she just felt lost.