Anna was unable to sleep. The big bed seemed empty and cold and the room was ‘unfriendly’ without a fire, which she seemed to need at this moment; not for its warmth, but more for the comfort she associated with it, and what it provided in the nighttime hours, so that she could see everything by its flickering light. There seemed to be a memory associated with a fire, blazing away: a big fire, throwing out its warmth as she'd watched it, feeling its warmth on her exposed body.
She could see the fireplace in her waking dream; big enough to walk into, with seating around it, and wrought iron pieces arranged for cooking and spitting. It must have been in a very large, older house. Some things were slowly coming back to her.
The dark around her was too unfriendly. There was something missing; something warm and familiar, apart from the fire. But what? Or more importantly, who? She had not been alone, yet she had no recollection of any particular person.
She picked up the jewelry from her side table and put on that one ring which seemed more special than the others.
It helped her rest, somehow, giving her something to hang on to, and putting her mind on a better footing. She would be able to feel that on her finger if she woke up in the dark, and would know that she was not in a dream.
There was too much by far, on her mind, but nothing that could be remembered of the last two weeks.
It was important for her to try and remember, but there was nothing; other than an unconscious reawakening as to where she was on the far side of the river, and then re-crossing it, as she had done, and riding back home… yet on a different horse, and with this dog (lying on the rug watching her) who needed her company as much as she needed his, but she hadn't known that anything was different until she'd ridden into the yard and been greeted the way she had.
Everything between her first crossing the river, which she no longer remembered, and then crossing back again, was just mostly a blank, but not a total blank. Some things were clear.
She had suddenly become conscious of where she was, and to how far she was from home.
She was aware of the wind in her face, the glaring reflection of sunlight off the river, and the faint smell of wood-smoke carried in the air. There were raucous birds complaining, and warning of her unwelcome presence.
She looked around at the suddenly unfamiliar surroundings; never having seen them from this side of the river, realizing that she had never ridden so far from the estate before, and she would never have forded that river had she realized how high it was. No matter; she must have crossed it, to be over here, so she could ford it back again.
She remembered thinking that, back home, they would be worrying for her. It did not pay to daydream, which is what she had been doing for most of her ride.
She had never come so far as the river before, yet both the river and the surroundings were hauntingly familiar in a way she did not understand.
She recollected knowing that there was a proper, shallow ford across it, just half a mile up-river where it widened, and out of sight around the bend; and that there was a small, picturesque village; Murton, two miles beyond that.
In her mind’s eye she could see the smoke rising from the houses’ chimneys, and the activity around the Smithy and the one Inn, with its boisterous patrons, and an equally boisterous dog, harassing the children at their game of ‘peggy’ in the middle of the road, and leaping in to try and steal the small piece of wood from them as they shouted at it and tried to drive it off.
It was great fun for a dog, but frustrating for the children.
Closer to her and out of sight in the trees that she could see waving in the gentle breeze, she imagined a large country house with a stable-yard, and with its inevitable mud puddles after a heavy rain. That house had a large, walk-in fireplace (that again), with the stones, cold and unwelcoming without a fire, but warm and friendly at other times with its fire blazing. She smiled.
Those thoughts could be nothing more than the wanderings of her vivid imagination which she’d had even as a child, playing with her dolls and reading her books. She had never been this far before that she could remember, so the memories made no sense.
There were a lot of things like that, that she thought she knew, but not knowing how, or indeed if, she knew it to be so.
Below her and downriver, also unseen, the channel narrowed and the river became swifter and deeper over a distance of a few hundred feet as the river had worn its way through a more resistant stratum of rock, and then calmed once more as it opened up again. She could hear the noises of water rushing over boulders, roaring through narrow spaces, but it was also noisy where she was.
It was strange how she seemed to know anything-at-all about this area, if she did know what her mind persuaded her was real, and that she was not just imagining it, as if it had been glimpsed in a dream.
She blew out her candle and retreated to her bed to try and sleep.