The doctor announced that Catherine had broken her arm and that anything else would quickly heal with a bit of rest. He had cleaned a wound on her forehead and bandaged her arm carefully, then left her in the care of the Peggs. Mrs. Pegg insisted that she stay with them until 'things were sorted out' and Catherine did not have the energy to decline. She fell asleep very soon after, leaving the Peggs to discuss their plans.
In the meantime, Martha Emerson sat in her kitchen. A single candle burned on the table, its light helped along by the weak flames of the fire in the herd. Her twin children had been sent to bed early. She was trying to get her thoughts together, to understand what had happened to her life. She had badly hurt a girl she had been raising as her own. Well, not as her own, really, but in theory. As much as the girl's presence continued to disturb her, like a small cut on a right hand finger, she had never wanted to really hurt her.
It was not the girl's fault that she existed, Martha knew that. But she still despised her with every fibre of her being. All she wanted was to forget.
Her future had looked very bright when she was young. Her family had earned quite a lot of money during the years leading up to the end of her childhood, making them suddenly relatively high standing citizens. Or at least put them a great deal higher than they had ever been before. She had always been a pretty girl, and as she matured, she'd grown into somewhat of a beauty, earning her a nice amount of proposals. She had been married off to Jan just before she turned twenty, and it had been as good as perfect. He had been fairly young as well, just slightly less wealthy than her own father but well on his way to earning a good fortune doing business with traders from faraway countries.
When they didn't have children even after the first few years, he had started cooling towards her, as if the lack of heirs was something she was causing to spite him. She had been furious, of course, and had spent week after week in her parent's home, crying to her mother. He had been even less happy with her after she started that little habit, and soon they barely spoke. The chance of their producing an heir fell even further. Seven years after their wedding, their marriage had been on paper only. They only met on important occasions and rarely succeeded to look like a couple in public.
Then her parents had died, one after the other, of the same fever. She had been forced to go back to her own home as her brother sold their parents' house. Her husband's business that had seemed so promising, had shrivelled and was as good as gone. He still worked hard to make things work out, but his demeanour had changed and his luck was gone. He had not been happy to have her around and had done his best to leave her alone. When they finally tried talking about their issues, he had shocked her to the core when he suggested that they have another woman carry them an heir.
He'd apologised and even begun to warm up towards her after that. She had still been beautiful and young enough that she felt that she deserved his reverence more than anything, and finally receiving it was like a healing balm to the ache in her chest. For six months, things had looked brighter than ever despite her mourning of her parents. She had begun thinking about other options, like adopting a poor, little orphan, when she had realised that she would no longer have to.
She had wanted to keep the good news to herself, but Jan had sensed her excitement right away, and in the end she had told him that she was in a family way.
She had expected him to be at least as happy as she was, probably even more as he was the one who wanted children so badly, but instead his face fell. He had not wanted to talk to her for a long time, making her feel more lost than ever before. For the sake of her health, she had kept quiet and thought of more pleasant things.
A few months before she expected to deliver, her husband had come home late. His face had been stricken with something that looked like grief but could also have been regret or even anger. Before she could ask him anything he had, most uncharacteristically, broken into tears and fallen to his knees, begging her for forgiveness. At first she had thought he meant to repair the renewed gap between them and had almost been happy. Then, as she listened to his ramblings, it became clear what he had done.
The mother had been a poor farmer's daughter, who had accepted his indecent proposal out of need. She had died giving birth to a tiny, long limbed infant covered in black hair that had been named after her. The infant was with a wet-nurse in town. He wanted them to raise her together with her child.
She had, of course, never forgiven him. She had at times pretended to have warm feelings form him once more, for the sake of the children, but no matter how much he pleaded or how many declarations of love and faithfulness he gave her, she never accepted, choosing instead to punish him with her silent, suffering looks and her mistreatment of his bastard daughter. She had never been kind to the girl, often punishing her harder than necessary and always letting her work hard to earn her food. The girl called her mother in the continued belief than it was the truth, but it only made Martha despise her more.