Esther sat in her usual chair in the kitchen, rocking baby Bill slowly into a dreamy sleep, her own eyes grew heavy and her head nodded.
‘Esther!’ snapped Katy, ‘you’re going to drop him.’
‘Of course I’m not,’ said Esther, sitting up with a jolt.
‘Anyway, it’s only one o’clock, you can’t be tired already, you do nothing else but sleep all day.’
‘Just you wait,’ she yawned, ‘until you have children, then you’ll understand. It’s tiring.’
‘If you fall asleep there you’ll suffocate him, put him in his cot, for heaven’s sake. He’s getting too big for you to always be putting him to sleep like that, you’ll still be doing that when he’s 10 if you don’t take care.’
‘I’m too tired.’
‘Too lazy, more like,’ said Katy, going to get her coat.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To meet George,’ said Katy, ‘he said in his note he’s got something important to tell me.’
‘Oh really? So should we call you Mrs George?’
‘Don’t be stupid, and for god’s sake put that baby in his cot, you’re making a rod for your own back.’
‘Like it’s your concern,’ said Esther. She hauled herself up and made for the stairs, ‘be good with George,’ she cooed as she headed towards the bedroom.
Katy walked off, Esther was a fine one to lecture her on good behaviour after the predicament she’d landed herself in. She was to meet George near the market, it was a busy place to meet, she hoped she would spot him in the crowd that always thronged that area. A buzz of excitement mingled with anticipation and apprehension clouded her mind. The air was thick with fog and her brain seemed an extension of that solid, impenetrable state. She had a spring in her step and was eager to hear what George had to say but she couldn’t quite get the feeling of dread to go away, it was threatening to roll over the other feelings like a gigantic black thunder cloud and engulf all the happy sentiments. She couldn’t straighten out her mind or see clearly, she still didn’t know what to do. If George asked her to marry him, she must say ‘yes’, it made sense, she’d be free. She could leave the inn and start a new life with an adoring husband. That was the rosy view anyway. Her head told her that was the way to act. A sensible girl would follow her head and Katy was, by and large, a sensible girl. If she was to follow her heart, she wondered if she’d be here at all. Did she love George? Was this how love felt? It was impossible to know, maybe she’d never know if this was real love or not. She was willing to let that pass however. She could learn, he had done a lot for her and he was worthy for that reason alone. When he asked her to marry him, she would say ‘yes’ and mean it. They would grow closer as time went on, when she was freed from the drudgery at the Anchor Inn. Maybe she’d discover it to be the real thing after all.
She waited at the cross, suddenly feeling happier than she could ever remember. George was a fine fellow and she was escaping, it was almost too good to be true. When he came round the corner, she smiled at the look on his face. His brow was furrowed and even his gait looked tense.
She ran to him and flung her arms around him.
‘Oh George,’ she laughed, ‘I am so glad to see you!’
He cheered at her demonstrative greeting.
‘Come on, let’s walk.’ he said.
‘Walk? Don’t you want to spend some time here?’
‘No, let’s go up to Greyhope, it’s better there.’
She was going to argue, Greyhope was a long walk from here, then she realised what he was doing. It was part of the romance, he would propose at Greyhope, how fitting it would be.
Exchanging frequent happy glances, they walked towards the coast. There seemed a new formed understanding between them. Katy was additionally pleased that he was making such an effort, taking her somewhere pleasant and peaceful, a spot they shared, with meaning for both of them. Maybe he still suspected her of not wholly trusting him, but he need have no fear on that score anymore. Her mind was made up, when he asked she would accept, she tried with every smile to impart that message to him, to appease his fears. It seemed to be working, his strides grew easier and his manner more relaxed.
Eventually they reached their spot on the headland. It was a truly beautiful place despite the whips of cold wind that lashed their face. Promontories of jagged rocks lay beneath them and Katy became even more aware of the danger that lay in its beauty. But George’s closeness made her feel warm and safe. He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen, his usually perfectly placed hair somewhat dishevelled by the wind, it gave him a relaxed, gentle appearance.
‘I think at last, we understand each other fully,’ said George, ‘I’m glad Katy, I thought you would, but it’s always hard to tell, there’s such an obsession with purity and virtue in the modern world.’ Wind whipped his hair and he tried to flatten it down.
She continued to smile though somewhat unsure what he meant by this opening, it wasn’t quite what she’d expected. Assuming he was nervous, she didn’t interrupt, he would drag himself back on track soon.
‘You are aware of the unfortunate position I’m in regarding my finances, my income is so dreadful and my prospects may be good but it takes one so long to achieve anything, I fear I’ll be an old man before I have any financial independence.’
She shook her head in placatory fashion, removing wisps of hair from her mouth as the wind continued to blast them.
‘George, however little you have, it’s a vast deal more than I have or am ever likely to have, I shouldn’t quibble over that.’
His face fell, he looked somewhere between puzzled and angry.
‘But,’ he said, his voice so quiet she hardly heard the word against the roaring winds ‘but, you do understand?’
‘Of course I do,’ she said, raising her voice, ‘it’s no shame George.’
He nodded and smiled.
‘I agree, everyone does it these days, even in the best of families, so I’ve heard.’
She began to ask what he meant precisely but he continued before she had time to articulate.
‘I’ve found a good candidate,’ he said, taking a deep breath.
An odd description, Katy thought, but allowed him to go on. They were getting to the point now.
‘She has very little money herself but she has relations that will change that when we marry, the family are highly suggestible so I feel sure I’ll be able to succeed, then we’ll be free, we can see each other as often as we like. I may even have the means to set you up somewhere, eventually.’
Katy listened but didn’t hear, not clearly, what nonsense was he talking now? Maybe she’d misheard, the wind was blasting so hard it was difficult even standing up straight.
‘George, explain what you’re talking about, when who marries? What do you mean set me up?’
‘When I marry the young woman, the one I’m telling you about. I’ve heard she’s in line for a substantial dowry.’
‘That’s what I’m saying, we’ll be free to be lovers, I’ll have the means to…’
‘Stop,’ said Katy, ‘don’t utter another word.’
Suddenly the wind was bitter as well as loud, the waves were crashing so wildly below that she could hardly hear a thing. Fury rose to a pitch and boiled through her whole body, she wanted to seize him and hurl him into the raging swell below.
‘How dare you,’ she said, ‘how? I can’t believe you’d even suggest it. You infamous… barbarous… rogue. I would like to murder you, what do you think I am? Be your lover? While you have a cosy little life with your wife, I slave away all day for my father then lie down to be your slave every night? I don’t think so. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you, I knew it and after I…’
She yelled and turning, stormed back down the path. Rage like she had never known possible engulfed her. Tears filled her eyes and she was overcome with heartache she could hardly bear. The path went on forever, what seemed to have taken only seconds to climb when they were happy and smiling, now went on for miles. If he was following her, she neither knew nor cared, she did not look back. She cursed herself and him over and over. Her loose fringe blown all over her face by the ferocious gusts was now sticking to her face, held fast by the residue of her tears.
The worst of it was that he’d made her care for him. She’d been so ready, so filled with pleasure at the thought of escaping. He’d been her only hope, now she must return to lifelong incarceration. It was unbearable.