Romance Sad Historical Fiction

Winter mist weaves around me, threading its way in and out of trees and gravestones, incorporating everything into a pattern of death. Night has begun to fall: the soft, muted tones of twilight are gradually replaced with darker shades until the whole sky is tinted with ebony and even the stars seem unable to pierce the pervading darkness. In the stillness of the cemetery, not a sound can be heard apart from the frantic hammering of my own heart as I wait, alone, to see what will happen next. He said he would be here. My breath escapes in ragged sighs as I wait and wait and wait. Still nothing. Was he just toying with me then? The chill, evening air runs icy fingers down my spine as I realise he might not come. I shiver – but not from the cold. If he does not appear soon, then all will be lost: I will be but another fallen woman with no one in the world to help me.

He is not coming, and yet… My mind returns to the memory of him – to the tall, handsome figure I first saw here in this cemetery when I was placing flowers on my mother’s grave. The slightly arrogant gait was offset by tumbling dark curls and laughing eyes so that my heart leaped in spite of itself when he spoke to me for what could a fine gentleman like him want with a penniless girl like me? His smile was sunshine after summer rain; the touch of his hand was a gentle breeze caressing my cheek. I was young; I was foolish; I knew nothing of men. It took but an hour for me to rip my heart from my breast and hand it to him. If he had only taken care of it… I am afraid he did not know its true worth, regarding it carelessly before stuffing it into his pocket and then enfolding me in his arms. I was young; I was foolish; but I was also willing. I cannot blame him for everything. The gravestones kept our secret that night, but months later, my swelling belly did not…

When I told him I was with child, he promised to take care of me. I was to wait here in the graveyard, the site of our first meeting, our first kiss, our first coming together. He said he would be here, but my eyes still fail to see him. We would be married, he said. We would be married and I would be a lady – with carriages and servants and fine dresses to wear. He seduced me with his words. How could I know that lies fell from his lips as easily as kisses? I did not know then that I was ruined: thought only of his whispered promises, his honeyed smiles.

Lost in reverie, I forget the cold until an owl hoots, dragging me back to present reality. My stomach clenches in fear and I imagine our child kicking within my womb, as eager as I to see its father. We wait; and yet he does not come.

Even now, I refuse to give up hope. He said he would be here. My feet wander in time with my mind, weaving through gravestones, looking for my love. My eyes search for my parents’ grave – John Hargreaves, 1803-1842 and his beloved wife, Mary, 1810-1831 lie reunited in death; the date my mother’s life ended is the day my own life began. They will never see their grandchild, illegitimate though it is – although if my sweetheart arrives soon, perhaps we will be married in time to give our child the respectability it deserves. Surely he would not really abandon me. My emotions fluctuate from hope to despair.

I am here, my love, my heart tells him. A forgotten memory forces its way out of the corner of my mind. I see myself waiting in this self-same graveyard, still young, still fresh, still hopeful. It seems like yesterday and yet I know I have been waiting here far longer than that. Time swirls so that he is kissing me again for the first time and I no longer know what is real and what is only fancy. Once more, I hear the sound of his voice, low and urgent as he whispers endearments, and his breath is hot on my neck and the weight of his body something I had not expected to feel so comforting as he claims me for his own.

A sudden noise behind me makes me turn my head. My love is here at last, striding towards me, his arms full of lilies. Their pungent aroma fills my nostrils. I stretch out a hand for the flowers he carries, but he passes through me as if I am mist. Kneeling beside my parents’ grave, he places the lilies on the cold, white marble. The lettering on the gravestone shimmers in the moonlight and only now do I notice the final inscription: ‘And their beloved daughter, Elsie, 1831-1848.’

Time stands still. How can I be here and there at the same time?

I touch his shoulder lightly, wanting him to explain, but when he turns his head, his eyes look straight through me as if searching for someone who is no longer there. I finally know the truth, but it is too terrible to contemplate. I have been faithful where he has been faithless. Memories float once more across my mind and I remember cold seeping into my bones and an icy chill permeating my body while I wait beside the gravestones. My last conscious thought is that he will come soon. He said he would be here.

Lilies. Flowers for the dead.

He is finally here, but it is too late now. Why is it that men always break their promises?

Sadly turning away from him, I become one with the swirling mist before letting myself sink down through the gravestones into the cold, damp earth beneath and the fate that awaits me.

July 09, 2021 22:53

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