Who am I? Where am I?
After that discussion with Hetty, in which so many things were revealed, Anna was able to relax enough to be able to get back into her dream that very night.
She slid back into it so easily this time, and it was as though her mind had opened a larger window onto what had happened to her.
Everything seemed so much more real and detailed than she had previously remembered, but it was still a dream.
The room had changed. She was no longer at Appleton (rapidly fading as she moved deeper into the dream) but was somewhere else; back where she needed to be with the man she could not remember, but would never forget.
She looked around. She was in a large, bright room with a fire blazing away in the hearth. There were warm bricks, wrapped in towels at her feet and beside her. It was getting dark outside. How long had she been here? She was alone. Was this the same dream? It was, she recognized her immediate surroundings.
She heard a slight noise, but was not sure where it had come from.
Samson was lying near this other fire, as he had been before, and he was fully relaxed, lying out, without a care in the world.
“Hello. Is anyone there? Where am I?” Her hand raised to touch her head and she winced at the pain. That pain was real. Her head was bandaged, and she felt bruised on other parts of her stiff body.
She could see her clothing drying on a clothes horse by the fire along with clothing belonging to someone else; a man’s clothing.
She was in the right dream.
It began to come back to her.
A youngish man, a little older than she was, unwound from a chair by the fire. He put his book down before he approached her.
She could see him clearly now. This was the man she was in love with; the man who had made love to her; the man who loved her. She knew all of those things.
He was casually dressed and in his stocking feet, but his boots, set back a little way from the fire, drying, made up for that deficiency, and the clothing that was drying, was of at least as good a quality, as any her brothers or father had.
He answered her question. “I am glad to see that you are back with us. You had us worried.”
‘Us.’ The dog was looking at her now. ‘Us’, presumably meaning him and the dog, as there was no one else that she could see.
“Where are you?” He answered her question. “You are at Murton Lodge.”
He rested a hand on her brow, and then stroked her cheek.
“The doctor just left. You are at my home, and you are in my bed, which I brought downstairs for you. It was the only bed made up in expectation of my arrival, so the sheets are clean and properly aired out.”
“You rescued me from the river. I remember.”
He nodded. “It came close to claiming both of us.”
“May I know who you are so that I may thank you?”
“You have already thanked me; memorably so, several times.” She was not sure what that meant.
She heard him tell her his name, but it was lost just as quickly as she’d heard it, and it did not register in her mind.
“I just came up from London, or I am not sure what would have become of you when you went into that river as you did.”
She saw a kettle, steaming gently by the fire.
“You fell off your horse in the middle of the river when the girth gave way after you tried to cross it, and hit your head when you fell. I thought you would both be swept away, but the horse made it to the bank, and is safe in the stable. I also was able to recover your saddle, but there is nothing I can do about it at the moment.”
She was glad to hear that.
“We are about three hours from London, and miles from anywhere civilized. The nearest village is Murton, of course, and my nearest neighbor is a good two miles away. “
He sat on the bed beside her, looking at her, setting her heart beating so fast, and robbing her of breath when he touched her hand.
“But who are you? Where did you come from? I have been aching to ask that question for some time now, but you did not seem able to say anything before now.”
She knew her name, of course, but why couldn’t she just tell him what it was? Except she couldn’t. Try as she might, she didn’t know what her name was, or where she had come from. Everything, before falling into that river was a blank.
He gathered up her hand in his much larger one, lifted it to his lips and kissed it.
She did not pull away. Her heart was thumping so loud he must hear it, and even feel it reverberating in the room.
“Well, you did bang your head when you fell off, and I am sure the cold water was as much of a shock to you as it was to me, which is why I am so inappropriately attired; for which I apologize. These clothes were all I could find to wear, and our other clothes are slow in drying. I felt that it was more important that we got warm, and fed.”
Why was he apologizing about his clothing? They’d both been soaked. She was also aware that she was not properly attired to be entertaining a gentleman sitting so close beside her on her bed, holding her hand as he was. She was in a nightdress. A damnably-uncomfortable nightdress. That, was why she had difficulty breathing, but it was only part of the reason.
Where was she? Who had undressed her and got her dry and warm, and even dressed her in this nightdress?
There were sheets over a clothes-horse by the side of the fire, airing out, along with other sheets also drying, and some toweling.The pair of them must have been very wet.
She couldn’t go anywhere the way she was, and did not want to move. It was comfortable, and warm, and he was interesting, the way he was looking at her, touching her, drinking her in just as she was looking up at him, feeling helpless.
No one had ever looked at her like that before and she liked the feeling. She watched his expression as he looked at her, but did not hear everything he was telling her. It was as though her ears were filled with water.
He was still waiting for her to tell him her name.
She struggled for a while to remember, thinking for some moments, opened her mouth as it seemed ready to come back to her, hovering on the tip of her tongue, and then she shut it without saying anything. She would have shaken her head, but it felt like if she did so, she would see her head fall off.
“I can’t remember who I am for the moment. I expect it will come back to me soon enough.”
He agreed. “The doctor said that there might be a mild concussion for a while, and that it would soon pass.”
He adjusted her pillows as she sat up with difficulty, with his help, as she pulled at her night dress to raise it better from around her hips where it was too snug on her, to loosen it, and to stop it tearing, feeling how high it was on her legs.
She was in a girl’s nightdress, and it was tight across her chest. Of course it was tight, there—she was not a little girl anymore—making it difficult for her to breathe. It had been one thing when she had been lying down, but another when she sat up.
He must have put that on her for the doctor’s visit. She smiled, remembering that. Before that, they had both been naked. She remembered that clearly too. Both of them naked. And together, like that?
He saw her physical discomfort. “I’m sorry, but the only nightdress I could find for you, was one that my sister wore some years ago, so it is quite small for you.”
She struggled to bring her nightdress farther up her body and stripped it off over her head with his help, as he unavoidably touched her, helping her, leaning in to kiss her breasts as they appeared, with difficulty, from the grasp of the nightdress—making her gasp, but not objecting to what he did as she once would have done—then holding her breasts so delicately in his large hands as he pulled her to him, setting her laughing and blushing again, before she settled back under the covers, pulling them up around her, exhilarated at the way she excited him; the way he excited her; feeling very strange.
Why wasn’t she embarrassed or objecting to his familiarity, or his personal touch? But then none of it felt wrong.
“How did I get here?”
“I brought you here. I could not take you anywhere else. As I said, my nearest neighbor is two miles away, and we would neither of us survive going that far, for his wife to look after you, as wet as we both were, so I had to bring you here. This is my home for the summer.
“I knew that the boy who looks after the stable for me would eventually be here with some supplies, and more wood for the fire, so I looked after you until he came, and sent him for the doctor first thing this morning, but I arrived a full day earlier than I had planned, and he came a day later than he should. Fortunately, there was more than enough wood for the fire, so I was able to get us dry and warm, eventually.”
“You undressed me.” It had not been a question.
“Yes. I undressed you. I had to. You know that. You helped me as much as you could. We were both very wet.”
“Oh.” She would ask more about that, later.
This was unlike any dream she had ever had before. She was actually conversing rationally and extensively—as in real life—apart from a few hazy interludes as her mind wandered. And why did she not feel either shy, or embarrassed sitting with only a light sheet covering her nakedness?
“How much do you remember of the last two nights?”
Two nights? Had she been here that long?
She giggled nervously, knowing why he was asking her what she remembered. She remembered more than enough, still marvelling at it, but she would say nothing about that.
“I remember some things. I recall you feeding me, holding me to sit up.” She had been naked even then, and there had been no sheet covering her then, and he had kissed her lips, and kissed her breasts as they had laughed together, sitting and looking at each other like two young lovers. He had been naked too, and she had not been shocked by it and had not objected.
She remembered a lot more than that too as he had dried her, and then had stayed with her that first night in a make shift bed on the floor by the large fire to get warm, getting up from beside her only to make up the fire and to do other things as he prepared a late meal for them, adding things to a pot, steaming by the fire. It smelled good.
She remembered seeing him naked when he had done that, and he had not been shy in the slightest degree, merely smiling at her when he’d seen her watching him. It all seemed perfectly normal, with nothing out of place or wrong.
She had never seen a truly naked man who was aroused, before. And he had been aroused. How did she know that? He usually was when he was close to her.
He was excited, standing to attention like that, because of her. Just because of her. She had been curious at first, rather than shocked or scared. The time for being scared, was gone. He had saved her life, and she was his, to do with as he would after that, and they had both contributed to that.
She wanted to know more about this condition, and how she caused that. She knew that she soon would learn much more about him... and that, when he came back to join her again, as he certainly needed to, to get relief from that strange condition. Horn colic, she’d heard it called. She knew something about that now. She could see that about him already. She’d learned about that need, soon after he’d undressed her, and after she’d encouraged him, helping him to solve that insistent problem for which there was only one solution. Her, and her body to welcome him in.
She’d encouraged him?
She had indeed. Her cheeks still burned thinking about that, and she unconsciously clenched her legs together. Too late for that. He’d already been there several times now.
She had not actually seen him there, or quite as excited as he was for her before that moment, but she had felt him there, when he had held her close, and then… and then….
She smiled at how easy it had been, thinking about that; the physical shock of it that first time that strange part of his had slowly gone into her body with her help; the unfamiliarity with anything like that before, and the pleasure she had felt in being loved in that wondrous way for the very first time.
They had made love then, and it had been as gentle and slow, and yet also, as fiery and as memorable as she’d hoped it would be when she met that one man at last. Except, she had never met him; despaired of meeting him; until then, and she had almost died to do it. She was not going to let that moment escape her without grasping it with both hands.
What had happened between them had been real. She could still feel it; where he had been, where he had just left her again, leaving her damp.
She had encountered something similar, seeing what actually happened between a man and a woman, when she had stumbled across an amorous pair in one of the barns (many such pairs), or even watched them beside one of the hay rows in the middle of the field of hay, as it dried, and as they had rolled together. It was a common occurrence on the farm!
After the first few times of blundering into those intertwined and momentarily unconscious pairs, writhing together, and coupling so heatedly, she had accepted that it was part of the new life where she was, and would not be stopped no matter what she said or did. She wisely, said nothing, but had not run off either, staying to see how it ended, shocked by both the violence and the gentleness, followed by kissing and laughter afterward. No one had been hurt by it.
Better to accept it and move on.
Now she knew about that, having experienced it for herself.
“There were some preserves to keep us fed that first night, as well as cheese, beer, and some good wine, and I also raided the garden for vegetables while there was still light to find them, as well as cutting down a ham from the rafters. We did eat well after that; a rich and thick soup, quite salty, even if you may not have been conscious of it.
“I don’t think I shocked anyone as I wandered around the garden to do that, having nothing but a towel around me most of the time. Except when it got snagged on a rose.”
She chuckled, thinking of that, seeing him when he’d come back after washing out the vegetables in the trough, and tossing his towel aside.
How could she laugh over something so visceral and primitive; so raw? And so wonderful.
He hadn’t had a towel around himself when he had seen to her, earlier, but she hadn’t been shocked by that either. It had seemed natural for him to be like that with her. She had been naked too, and just as excited as he was, as well as attentive to him in a way she shouldn’t have been, but they’d already made love several times by then.
Something had changed about her when they had first been together, in those first few hours.
In his nervousness with her, he repeated some of what he’d already told her as she looked up at him, setting his heart beating fast again.
They were both still nervous! They were both still learning about this new set of feelings that had captivated them both; wondering what the rules were, if there were any rules, each afraid of hurting or shocking the other.
“Your horse lost its footing in the river. Your dress kept you afloat for a while, but then, when it became more and more wet, it pulled you under. I had little enough time to react.”
She held his hand to keep him close to her. “But I have no recollection of anything.”
“That is not surprising after such an accident. There was no identification on you, or on any of your clothing either when I undressedyou; no monograms to give a clue.
“Your horse said nothing.”
She chuckled. She must be recovering if she could find something humorous in what he said, but it was also a nervous chuckle, as she remembered other things, strangely primitive things that had happened between them as they got warm together, holding each other so very close.
“You seemed far from home.”
“I must have been. I do not recall ever riding so far before. None of the landscape was familiar to me. I do remember, deciding to go to the top of the rise across the river, but I did not know that the river was higher than normal. I have never been this far before, to my knowledge.
“Who undressed me?” She blushed up at him, already knowing that answer, but she liked to see him flustered, trying to explain what he had done, and how he had done it.
“I did, of course. I had no choice. I was the only one here, so I was faced with that task. I would like to say that I did not look, as I undressed you, but I would be lying. You… are… very beautiful, and unbelievably breathtaking and so desirable. Magnificent, even.” He was looking at her breasts as he’d said that.
For the first time in her life, she was not swearing over them, at how ungainly and large they were, with a life of their own if they were not tied-down.
They were not tied-down now, and he could not stop admiring them or touching them, caressing them, once he understood that she did not mind him touching them, but even liked him to touch her anywhere and everywhere.
She blushed, and instinctively clutched the sheet closer to her, before she relaxed again. Instincts died hard, along with a mother’s cautions about men, and letting herself get cornered anywhere, to experience worse, or better, as this had been.
“I also had to get you dry and warm; get both of us dry and warm, as well as to see to that contusion on your forehead and to check for other injuries.
“I think I remember some of that. I remember you drying me.”
He hoped she did not remember too much.
“How long have I been here?”
“Tonight, will be our... the third night.”
“Our third night together.” She said it, where he couldn’t.
She had been here, alone with him that long, and as she was; utterly dishabille? But he had been the same way, and they had been that way together.
She chuckled. “And we were together?” She needed to hear him say it, and to watch him blushing.
“We were together.” He almost whispered it.
She chose not to think any further along those lines, and would not ask, how, they had been together. She already knew. She could feel that change about herself, and that other change too, where it still tingled between her legs.
That hair had gone too, from over her vulva. She would have to ask about that; having him explain it again, as he blushed, and as they both re-lived that moment. He showed her, and explained. Again. And kissed her there. Again. Apologizing for knicking her there, even if he hadn’t, or for making her sore, which he had, for a while.
“And I have been unconscious that long.”
“Not unconscious. Remote, withdrawn, and uncommunicative for a while, after that shock and the cold. You came around from time to time and were able to drink that soup that I made.”
They had kissed, too, as he had comforted her.
“You also talked a lot in your sleep.”
“What did I talk about?” She needed to know.
“Nothing that made any sense.”
He would rather not say.
“The stable lad showed up just this morning, two days late, very apologetic, and I sent him for the doctor, just to be sure. I got that nightdress onto you while he was gone. It was a very snug fit and I had difficulty getting you into it, I am sorry if I was rough on your breasts, but it was all I could find.”
She remembered some of it now. They could laugh about it later, when she told him what she remembered of that, and how her breasts had fascinated him as he had tried to get them into that tight-fitting garment. Everything about her fascinated him, but she was the same with him.
She had many questions, but he seemed to become flustered if she pressed him, after asking if he had been the one to undress her.
She knew why he was embarrassed. It was a good sign, creating a favorable impression of him as a gentleman. She knew everything about him she needed to know, while knowing almost nothing.