Updated: Aug 1
“Let him go,” my husband says as if letting our son plunge to his death beneath the carriage wheels is the most sensible thing to do. The daft man.
“I will not.” Even if my arms ache from pinning my son to my side. Why did I let Fitzwilliam talk me into taking the open carriage the seven miles from our house to London?
“He only wants to see the world, Marianne.” My husband has the audacity to shake his head at me. “You’ve held onto him long enough.”
"Never." No time could ever be too long. We’d lost Percy, how could William think I would be so negligent with our last son, our little Tom?
“I can almost see the village, Mama,” Thomas’s excited voice pulls my attention from my husband and back where it belongs, on my son.
I pull him a little closer. “No need to hang out the carriage, Tom. We’ll be in the village soon enough.” Why is he even excited? It’s just a tiny village. One of many we have passed and will pass on our journey.
“He was hardly in any danger,” Fitzwilliam says.
I snap the fool a glare. “And it worked out so well for you the last time you said that to me.” The day we’d lost Percy.
Fitzwilliam’s sigh is dredged through a blanket of frustration. “Must you always cast that before me? No one could have foreseen what would happen to Percy.”
“Which is why Thomas will forever be right here by my side where nothing can happen to him.
“And what sort of life will that be for him, hm?” My husband cocks a haughty eyebrow at me.
“A safe one.”
“You’ll smother him.”
“I’ll cover him with love.”
“Which is about the same thing,” he mutters.
“I won’t lose him.” I can’t. I’ll die if I lose Thomas too. “Nothing will ever happen to him.”
“You cannot know that, Marianne. You aren’t God.”
Which brings up a very good point—not that I let Fitzwilliam know. Where was God when that gang of thieves escaped the dragoons on the road bordering our manor? Where had He been when they took little Percy as a living shield betwixt themselves and the pursuing officials?
And where had I been? Sipping tea and laughing with our neighbours because I foolishly believed my husband when he assured me nothing could possibly happen to our children if we left them for a few hours.
Guilt and shame, familiar tormentors, crowd in until the world turns dull and grey. I clutch Tom closer and renew my vow to never listen to Fitzwilliam’s advice on our children again.
If I had been there, the maid could have clutched Thomas close to her breast as she’d done, and I could have protected Percy.
“Stop torturing yourself, Marianne. You cannot predict the future. You have to let the boy live a little.”
Fitzwilliam’s nostrils flare as if he is barely holding back a flood of angry words. But I know he is only holding back because he knows he can’t win. He will never win.
A mother knows best.
We’ve stopped in a village for the night, but I can’t relax. Thomas darts about the chambers investigating. My throat is dry and scratchy from the numerous, “Be careful, dear. No, don’t touch that. Come down from there.”
It’s exhausting watching Thomas, but who will keep him safe if I do not watch him every second? Fitzwilliam surely will not.
“Let him be, Marianne.” My husband’s voice is fringed with anger and laced with frustration.
Let Fitzwilliam keep his emotions tightly leashed. I let all the years of rage burn though my glare. “I will not.”
Fitzwilliam pushes to his feet, fists clinching, face tight. I brace myself for the coming fight. I cannot let him win. My heart is barely surviving as it is.
“Where is your faith, Marianne?” he says.
I am taken aback, almost as if he struck me.
“You had such a strong faith once but look at yourself.” His hand waves up and down my person, and his face twists with disgust. “You’re a mess. Where is that peace from God that surpasses the world’s comprehension you always talked about. Where is the lady I married?”
Tears prickle my eyes. My head dips. I am a mess. My gown is torn and creased from the times Thomas fought to escape my hold, and I clutched him tighter. My hair is in ruins after I pulled him off the bedcurtains, and he tried to ride on my head. I know I am a mess, and the disgust in my husband’s eyes are like little daggers to my already ragged heart.
But I cannot let Thomas go.
I just cannot.
I’m the only one I can trust.
A clatter from behind draws my attention. “No, Thomas!” I race to save my child digging through the base of a wardrobe high off the ground, his feet dangling at least two feet up in the air.
Fitzwilliam grabs my arm and delays my rescue. Thomas plops to the ground, and my heart hitches. I wait for his cry, but Thomas just laughs and crawls under the tall, arched legs of the wardrobe.
I spin to face my husband, relief and anger racing through my veins. An unusual pairing, I know. Thomas is safe, but Fitzwilliam could not have known that. If he had not stopped me, I would have been there to ensure Thomas's safety. “Unhand me this instant.”
“No, Marianne. Not until you see reason. Not until you find your faith. We cannot live like this.” He pauses and visibly tries to regain some control. “I will watch, Thomas. I promise.” He moves past me to pluck our child from under the wardrobe and dusts off the cobwebs in his hair. “See, I will not let anything happen to him, but go and read your Bible.”
“I did not pack it.” What was the use when I never read it anymore?
“I packed it for you.”
I glare at him, but maybe it is more of a stare now. Much of my fire was lost at his unexpected jab to my heart.
“Go, Marianne. Find your faith. We need you to be strong again.”
Find my faith? Let go of my son? The man was full of impossible demands today.
“You speak of faith as if it is something I have merely misplaced.”
“Maybe you have, Marianne.”
I blink. He cannot be serious.
“You need to find your faith.” He pins me with an insistent look. His arrogance rankles.
“Well, then, it must be around here somewhere if I have simply misplaced it as you say. Shall I search the chambers? Perhaps, my faith is in this chest?” I opened a random lid of a chest belonging to the inn and peak inside, knowing he means I have misplaced my faith in myself instead of God but purposefully misunderstanding him.
“Marianne.” Annoyance nips at my husband's words and fuels my anger.
“No, no. It must be around here somewhere, for if it was as easy as you say I ought to be able to find it.”
He glares at me, and I snap my fingers. “Aha, I know. It is in a place I have never looked before.” In a moment I can only describe as a slip into insanity, I slap my hand on the mantle of the fireplace and stick my head up the chimney. “Perhaps, my faith is in...” A billow of soot puffs out of the chimney and chokes the rest of my words, turning my world black.
A thousand pin pricks flare through my eyes, and my throat burns.
“Marianne!” Fitzwilliam’s alarm is clear, but I am too busy coughing, grabbing for my stinging eyes, and wishing I had never been so foolish as to plunge my head into a chimney to prove a point to my husband.
I blink and try to focus on the room. But I cannot see it.
I cannot see anything.
Thomas's panicked cry penetrates my own fear. He is in danger.
“Thomas?” Panic tightens my throat. It doesn’t matter how many times I blink my burning eyes the world is a perpetual blur. "Fitzwilliam, I cannot see! Where is Thomas?"
Fitzwilliam is bellowing for the innkeeper and not listening to me. I know not where Thomas is, or what is wrong with him. My eyes will not see.
'Oh, God,' I beg the Almighty in the deepest recesses of my heart, 'what have I done?'
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Chimney image by https://pixabay.com/users/darkmoon_art-1664300