The grieving man lacked the impetus, insisting on stricter adherence to domestic duty from the household slaves.
Empty of thought, trying to obliterate feeling, he wandered into her sleeping quarters. The last place she occupied in those final months of her fading days, the bedchamber was chilled with the wild night, wind howling between glass panes, where the window had been left open once again.
Thunder snarled, advent to the sudden onslaught of hale clattering against the windows. Mountain squalls were common at this time of year, changing seasons, dropping temperatures fed blustery winds.
Dark clouds swept across the face of stars, branches thrashing about like a hag’s wild tangles.
Listless, he neared the window, fancying her scent, sweetness of her voice beckoning.
An endearment, the way she had murmured his name in those first years of their marriage—before the failed pregnancies, death and war brought to their doorstep, the precarious flight to stay ahead of the British.
Moonlight broke between shifting clouds, path of waxen luminance running out beyond the lawn, to distant shadows, swallowed by the ancient oak and hickory sheltering her grave, settled into the copse beyond a low rise.
He bolted the window, gathering himself to exit her empty bedroom, when the wind rose.
A sudden, whistling tantrum, its fury burst open the window latch, latticed panes crashing inward, causing Thomas to spin around.
In two long steps, he was at the trellis, struggling to shutter the windows against the strength of the gale outside.
Sheets of rain and hail pouring through the open frame, he was struck off his feet by an explosive thunder-clap, blinded by lightening.
Disoriented, ignoring elbows smarting from where he caught himself on the slick floor, he scurried back to the window, hauling himself over the ledge.
“Martha!” he cried. Her after-image branded into his vision, a figment of his bereavement, a mirage construed from his slowly breaking mind.
She had been there…
He inhaled deeply, her scent still hanging on the stormy air.
Heedless of the chill rain, the whipping gale, Thomas leaned out further into the night.
“Come back! Martha, please!” his desperation strangled him, searching the blackness across the lawn, through the pelting hail. “Please,” he entreated, hoarse in his grief.
Sinking to his knees, sorrow was an invisible wave collapsing him beneath its weight, head buried in his elbow, at the casement.
It was a testament to his unfamiliar confusion—exhaustion of a fractured mind—he seemed oblivious to the dousing rain and screaming wind tearing past the open window, water spreading in puddles upon the polished wood floor.
The wind shifted, rain dropping to a bare tap against the brick walls of the stately Monticello.
His head came up, alert suddenly, straining to listen.
Her laughter—he swore it was her laughter, echoing, bizarre shimmer of mirth, through his mind, jarring in the darkness, spreading throughout the restless shadows of the room, made more unsettled by the flickering of sheet lightening high across the vale of the Blue Ridge.
He shook his head, knowing it to be some auditory illusion, figment of his grief, dismissing it as such.
Again, her laughter strumming the dark wind, stirring stronger, stealing the remnants of leaves off the trees, rattling loosened roof-tiles, shearing branches to clatter against the house.
He held his breath, all his senses focused.
Thomas, come to me, the note guttered like a dying torch, carried away by the drenching zephyr.
Surely her mirth, mischievous as she could be, never stoked the senses of a man the way that voice had, a chord of otherworldly danger, invite permeating flesh, heating his loins.
Thomas, darling, moaning, a whisper of wind, a shudder of leaf in the stormy night. It’s so cold…dipping softer, weakening to silence.
“No!” he implored. “Wait! Where are you?!” standing, reaching out, grasping at rain and wild wind.
Beyond the Shades and Dust, my dearest, the murmur retreating into the battering current, jolted through his nerves with portent...
Part 3 Coming Soon!