When we last left our heroine, Meg, she had been whisked away by her mysterious, handsome phantom of the moors to a curious place far away. What was this place? It is a place I wish was real, but at least I can visit whenever I want in my imagination.
Meg had the deepest sleep she remembered in a long, long time. She woke but did not open her eyes, eager to prolong her delicious repose in her cocoon of soft cotton sheets and woolen blankets. Visions of their race through the dark tunnel and the shocking discovery of the hidden village pushed into her consciousness. Had it all been a crazy dream? She rolled over and opened her eyes.
The cozy room was most definitely not the one she had rented from Mrs. Bennett, nor was it her room at home. The lace curtains parted just enough to give her a peek of the frosted window. Frosted? Was it winter? It had been fall when they left. How far had they come? A warm sweater and comfortable slacks that definitely were not the clothes she had arrived in lay carefully placed on the rocking chair next to the fireplace. A cheerful fire danced and crackled in the grate.
She found that the clothes fit as though they had been made for her. She went cautiously down the stairs anticipating a lurking surprise around every corner. The merry crowd was gone, but she heard activity in the kitchen and followed the sound. A round young woman was humming as she iced delicious looking cakes and cookies. Savory aromas wafted up from the bubbling pots on the stove.
The woman interrupted her work to pour hot water from the whistling kettle into a waiting teapot. “Come and have your tea,” she said, smiling. “I’ll wager you could use a soothing drink right about now.”
“Yes, thank you,” Meg accepted the steaming cup.
The young woman raised her voice and called out cheerfully, “Bobby!”
A boy of about eight came bounding in from the other room and slid across the kitchen floor as though it was a sheet of ice. “I’m here!”
“Run tell Nick that Megan is awake.”
He tore out the door like she had asked him to go and find Santa Claus.
Meg sat at the little kitchen table, and the friendly young woman sat across from her, pouring their tea. She set down a plate of cookies for them to share. “Megan, I’m Molly,” she said in a happy voice, “I’m so glad to see you. I thought you would never wake up.”
Disoriented by the unfamiliar surroundings and the woman she had never met who was speaking to her like an old friend, she asked, “Why? What time is it?”
“Two or so.”
“How long did I sleep?”
That wasn’t possible. “Two days? I don’t think so. Why would you say such a thing?”
“Because it’s true,” Molly said patiently. “Nick told us you would be tired. He said to let you sleep until you woke up on your own.”
“What else did he tell you?”
“Nothing. I’m guessing you’ve noticed he’s a man of few words.” She was not at all offended by Meg’s hostile reaction. “Be calm, Meg. I’m not going to ask. You are my guest, and Nick has said you are worthy of my friendship. That is all I need to know.”
Meg was a little disarmed by Molly’s sincerity, and she felt compelled to be a more gracious guest, until she remembered how she had come to be there. “Wait a minute. Nick said I was worthy of your friendship? He kidnapped me!” She jumped up and began to pace frantically around the kitchen.
“He took you to save you. He brings people here to help them when they are most desperate. You must have been in a very bad way.”
Her voice was comforting, but Meg resisted the urge to trust her. “What does he know about my life? What do you? You are strangers to me!”
“He sees people, Meg. He is always watching.”
Meg dropped into the chair. She found her neck would no longer support her heavy head and allowed it to fall onto her hands. The first tears fell with the gentle hand on her back. “Let it go,” Molly whispered, “you don’t need to carry it here.”
She couldn’t say why, but the wall she had constructed to protect her from her guilt collapsed in the cozy kitchen with the kind young woman. She sobbed as she hadn’t since her fall from grace. Molly’s youthful appearance disguised the wisdom of an old soul who knew how to be still and let Meg cry out her grief.
The kitchen grew brighter as Bobby pushed a ball of energy through the door dragging Nick behind him. With the blissful ignorance of the very young, Bobby demanded his mother’s attention completely unaware of the sobbing woman she was comforting, “Mummy, did you finish those cookies? Can I have one, please? One of the chocolate ones with the red frosting? Nick wants one, too, don’t you, Nick?”
“Chocolate with red frosting is my favorite, Bobby,” Nick said smiling, but his eyes were focused on Meg’s tear-stained face. He held her eyes and would not let her look away.
“How about some tea with that cookie, Nick?” Molly asked.
“Thank you, Molly.” Nick sat down at the table, and Molly put the cookie in front of him and poured his tea. She collected her son and said, “Com’on, Bobby. Let’s go eat your cookie while we listen to your sister practice her piano.”
Nick waited patiently while Meg took a deep breath, wiped her eyes and blew her nose with her napkin. When he felt she was ready, he asked without pretense, “What is it that you think you have done?”
“Don’t you know? You seem to know everything else about me.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
She swallowed hard and struggled with her pain and guilt. “I can’t,” she said finally. “You’ll hate me.” And why shouldn’t he? She hated herself.
Nick sat calmly with his hands folded on the table, watching her closely but saying nothing. Muffled strains of a novice piano player floated on the air. She found the first hints of forgiveness in his patience, but she still could not lay out her crimes for him to see.
She barely perceived that Nick was standing until he pulled her up into his arms. She leaned into his solidness, letting her head drop against his chest. She could hear his heart and feel its steady, rhythmic beat. As he tightened his embrace, she felt for the first time that there was a safe place in the world where she could escape the horrors of her life. He stood a long time holding her without a word until Bobby burst into the kitchen looking for another cookie, completely oblivious to the private moment he had interrupted. It was not lost on his mother however, who checked their faces and smiled with approval. She leaned in to speak to Meg in confidence, “Better? I can see that you are. He’s a miracle, that man, isn’t he?”
Nick reached for Meg’s hand. “Come on,” he said smoothly, “walk with me.”
Meg pulled the coat Molly loaned her tight against the frigid air. Curiosity overwhelmed all of her other thoughts as she took in her surroundings. “Where are we? We must have travelled a long way from where we were. It’s too cold for England in October.”
“The fogou does end a long distance from where it starts,” he confirmed.
“Where are we?” she asked again.
“We have come far to the north as you guessed.”
“No,” she demanded stubbornly. “Where exactly have we come to and how did we get here so fast?”
“I’ve told you, we’ve come to the north, to my home, and you know that we came here through the fogou.”
“Come on,” she said, frustrated. “I need to know more than that.”
“That’s enough for now.” His voice was kind but firm.
She wasn’t going to let it go. “Ok, then. What about you? Who are you? Why are we here?” She noticed she was sounding a little shrill.
“Peace, Megan.” That was it, the end of the conversation.
He led her into different shops, and the happy proprietors proudly showed their wares. In one window, a taffy puller was working a six foot log of pink taffy, folding it in and over and back on itself until it would be soft enough to eat. In another window a man was working two similarly-sized portions of hot sugar into one long stick of red and white for candy canes. Inside they found chocolate truffles painted with colorful syrups that were works of art, too beautiful to eat. Eat they did, however, when the young man behind the counter eagerly offered them samples, acting as though Nick was a great celebrity. Nick praised the artistry of the strawberry-shaped truffle so that the candy maker stood straighter and taller from his attention, then took a bite and closed his eyes as though it was taking him to the pinnacle of pleasure. The creamy chocolate melted in Meg’s mouth unlike any other candy she had ever tasted, driving out all thoughts but the ecstasy of the experience. This was no ordinary chocolate.
The next shop housed an enormous loom. The woman stopped her work when they entered and proudly displayed her hand-made sweaters, scarves, and blankets. The yarn she was working was the deep, infinite turquoise of a clear, fall day. Nick lifted the skein and stroked Meg’s face with it. It was the softest yarn she had ever felt. He visited the weaver with one of his dazzling smiles, calling her work “remarkable” and “unmatched by any other he had ever seen.” His attention caused her to flush bright red and sway slightly on her feet. Meg realized the woman had made the sweater she was wearing and marveled aloud at its plum color, nuanced with shades of dark and light like the actual, living fruit. Instantly, she had a friend.
They entered the next shop at precisely four o’clock to the chiming of dozens of clocks of various sizes and shapes. The lowest tone came from a grandfather with a shiny, brass pendulum as large as a dinner plate and a woodland scene carved into the top above the golden clock face. The sweetest came from the mantle clock whose face was hand-painted with pink Victorian roses and lilies-of-the-valley. One cuckoo sounded a few minutes late, nodding frantically to catch up with its shop-mates. The owner reset its time as though petting a favorite dog. He led them to his workbench and demonstrated the mechanism he was perfecting for his newest clock. Instead of a cuckoo, a conductor appeared at the top and tapped the hour with his baton. Ballerinas in floral tutus came out through the little doors whirling to the Nutcracker’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers.’ Nick grinned and congratulated the clockmaker with an enthusiastic slap on the back. Meg was enchanted.
Though there were other shops to see, she was ready for a break when Nick pulled her off the path into the countryside. The sun was setting in an explosion of pinks and oranges and purples, casting a rosy glow on everything around them. Clouds were rolling in and lit up like fireworks in the bright waning light.
Nick led her to sit on an old stone wall, stretching his long legs comfortably in spite of the cold, hard perch. “Thank you for this remarkable tour,” she asked, “but I still don’t understand why you brought me here”
“Aren’t you glad?” he asked looking into the distance.
“Yes,” she started hesitantly, “at least I think so. But why me?”
“It was time for you to stop running.”
“So you whisked me away where I have no idea where I am?” she asked skeptically.
“You will go back when you are ready.”
She was trapped in his gaze, his eyes unyielding to her protests. She realized that fighting him would be useless, but she couldn’t imagine that she would ever be ready to go back. “What if I don’t want to go back?” she said.
He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. Tucked into his body, warm and comfortable in spite of the stone wall, she dropped her head to his shoulder and wondered why she would ever want to leave.