IX. Frost at Midnight

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Grasmere was buried in sleep as lines of lightning lingered on the night sky. Stumbling through the trees and fields near the lakes of the Lake District, Winston and I finally succeeded in reaching the village. He offered to transport me in his arms for most of the journey, but my pride refused him, and so we travelled side by side, clinging onto each other only when we found our vitalities deplete.

Gentle rain cried from the sky, enhancing the dampness of our soaked garments. A delayed low rumble of thunder growled from the fields long behind us. We were exhausted, out of breath. Nobody was out of their homes at this ungodly hour. The storm was only going to get worse.

'We should get you back to the cottage, out of those clothes,' Winston said. Though he spoke truthfully, and without doubt I would succumb to a fever should I have remained in wet clothes, I had to refuse. My curiosity burned with the passion to learn more about my family – and what Ruth Jerome meant when she said 'sister'.

'It is entirely possible that I misunderstood when Ruth called me sister,' I told Winston. 'I want to be absolutely sure. My Uncle informed me whilst at my Aunt's funeral that I lived in Grasmere as a child, though I have no recollection of it at all. Could I possibly be the other missing daughter of Arthur Jerome? Or is that totally insane, as I suspect it to be?'

It was evident that Winston could not answer, and thus, I knew he would be of no further use in my search for answers.

'You may leave,' I told him. 'You must also replace those wet clothes; you do not want to catch pneumonia!'

'It does not matter; I shall accompany you back to your lodgings to know you are safe.'

As we approached a small shop, I stopped him. 'I am not on my way to Dove Cottage, I am on my way to see my Uncle.'

'You are not! Not after you almost drowned!' The volume of his voice demonstrated his attempt to be authoritative.

'While I appreciate your sentiment... and I really do... I must remind you that you are not my husband nor my legal guardian. I can do as I bloody well please. I will not have a stranger stop me from visiting my own family to either prove or disprove a theory that is, quite frankly, changing my life. For the better or worse, I do not know. Either way, I would appreciate either your co-operation or your fond farewell.'

Winston could not speak for some time after my declaration of independence. He could tell I did not entirely want him present for what was to come, for a personal family matter should not involve others not in that family. And in that moment, I did not know what family I truly belonged to.

At last he finally understood, and only accompanied me to the gate of my Uncle's small house. The awkward silence that transpired between us on the journey could not have been helped, for I was too headstrong to allow any other outcome.

'Here you are then, Miss,' he said, and I could tell by the distance in his voice that he was upset with me. Guilt took over my fear, for the efforts of this man were not as fully valued as they should have been.

I gave him a sorrowful look and an apology escaped my lips, but he still walked away with a heavy heart, leaving me with my own. I watched him until he disappeared from my sight.

As I opened the gate and headed for the door, the rain got heavier. I hurried the remainder of the way there and rapped on the door.

The force of my knocks swung the door inward. Suddenly, I froze, and the darkness within the house alerted every waking sense. The pondering of whether to enter ended briefly, and I strolled inside, awaiting anxiously of something bad to happen.

Inside the house was actually rather lovely. It had been touched by the hands of a delicate woman, with all surfaces still sparkling and free of dust. Somehow, my Uncle had kept it in its best condition following Aunt Louisa's death.

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