XI. A Farewell

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It would have been ironic had I plunged to my death, that I would reunite with my deceased sisters so soon after discovering their importance to my life. But in good fortune I found a soft patch of grass to land, and my screams lasted only momentarily.

The screams drew a visitor, whom I suspect was travelling to the Cottage to soothe his apprehension of how we departed – Winston Croft. As I rolled onto my stomach, I could hear his shuffled footsteps amongst the beating of the rain, and his guiding hand helped lift me from the mud.

I was a frightful sight; my skin bleached white with fear, my garments soaked in rain and mud, my hair haphazard and my entire body shook with more than just the cold. Winston's worried gaze held me in contempt, and he would not let me turn from him until I answered his questions.

'Are you okay, Rowena? What has happened?' He spoke loudly, though the rumbling of thunder was quieting. His attentions turned from me to Dove Cottage as it was ablaze. Fire could be seen in the downstairs window, and smoke piled out from the windows on the topmost floor. I glanced upwards to the window I descended from, and saw Lilianna staring back at me. Winston did not acknowledge the figure, for he may not have been able to see her.

'May I explain in a warmer, more suitable place, Mr. Croft?' My voice was tired as I felt I neared death. He nodded in response, and he allowed me to journey to his home while he waited for help to extinguish the fire that promised destruction to the historical cottage.

I felt as though my night of terror was over as I waited for Winston in the armchair of his exquisite abode in dry clothes. He did not come 'til morning, and my eyes allowed me sleep until his awaited return. My sublime dreams were filled with images of my sisters, as we danced together in the meadow, happy and free.

It came as some disappointment when I awoke, my health replenished and my strength gradually restored. Winston had hesitated to stir me from slumber, to awake me from peace. But his face displayed a solemn smile, and whatever news he had for me, was either going to comfort or dishearten me.

'Slept well, I hope?' He asked, laying a cup of tea in the table in front of the armchair. As soon as I moved my neck, I regretted my sleeping position. It was stiff and useless for the first few moments of consciousness, however I continued as normal.

'I must have needed it, to be sure,' I told him. 'How is the cottage? Antonia?'

'The cottage still stands, and the fire only damaged most of the living quarters and hallway. The men of the village awoke to the storm and helped in vanquishing the flames. Antonia's body has been placed in her bed, until the coroner can collect her. He has been called.'

My anguish returned, but I swallowed hard to keep from bursting like a moth to flames. My sorrow was like the tide; it had left me as my memory allowed me sweet sanctuary of pain, but reality soon hit, and the waves came rushing back. I sipped my piping hot tea, then set the saucer and cup back on the table.

'May I see her, before he takes her?'

Winston nodded. 'Certainly, my father would like to speak with you, if that be okay? He is rather worried for your wellbeing, for what you endured during the night.'

'I do hope Mr. Croft does not think me responsible for the devastation to his lovely home?'

'Of course not, he is but worried. I divulged your story with him, of all that you disclosed to me last night, of Lilianna, whom you confirm to be the murderer of the Grasmere children, and the Jerome family.'

Some time after I fell from the window, I chose to tell Winston a brief summary of the story my Uncle had told me, yet I did not reveal the most important part – that I was the lost daughter of Arthur Jerome. I could not bear to bring that information to light – my prudish need to retain my private life overwhelmed my desire to allow my tongue to wag.

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