The sky had darkened by the time I reached the lane.
The ground was hard underfoot, the air was still, and the road was lonely. I walked fast along the broken asphalt, my boots slipping on the occasional patch of black ice, increasing my pace until warmth seeped through my bones. Then I slowed my footsteps to enjoy the freedom and nature, which I now found myself in.
It had been a long two months locked within the walls of Thornfield. The old manor was falling down around itself, and though it was a fine place, it was dreary in the midst of winter’s chill. The grand house had been turned into a hotel some fifty years before, but it scarcely saw any guests in summer, let alone in the icy months of the year.
I was wanting for adventure, for conversation and action, my situation calling for a change of scenery lest my anguish devour my soul. That was how I found myself on my way to the village, an escapee of the confines of Thornfield, no matter how terrible the weather outside was.
The lane inclined uphill to the village. Having reached halfway, I leaned against an old bluestone fence that bordered an ancient farmer’s field to catch my breath.
The moor stretched out around me, the copse of trees I took shelter in making every sound feel closer than it actually was. Fog had begun to descend, and below, the battlements of Thornfield sliced through the mist marking just how far I’d come.
On the hilltop above my perch, the moon was rising, pale and low in the sky, and beyond that, the lights of the tiny village appeared hazy through the weather. I had about a twenty-minute walk until I reached the limits of civilization and the pub, which was my ultimate destination.
The longer I sat and listened, the more I could piece together the sounds of life ahead. The rumbling of a lorry on the motorway beyond, the bark of a dog, the slam of a door…all carried farther afield by the dense air.
Then, as if out of nowhere, a harsh noise broke through the beautiful stillness. The roar of an engine farther down the lane whipped me out of my state of calmness, and I leaned back against the fence lest I be flattened by the approaching vehicle.
The windings of the narrow road hid it from view for quite some time even though the noise increased the farther it came along, and I stilled to allow it to flash past.
It was so dark and unsettling, and my mind mulled over the ghost stories Alice had been regaling me with while at the lonely hotel bar the last few nights. She’d taken great delight in telling me about the black hound, which prowled the lonely roads and would catch unwary travelers by surprise. Much like the approaching vehicle. But it was silly of me to be afraid since Jane Doe was afraid of nothing, especially not a walk through the moor in the dark!
A light flashed around the corner, and I was illuminated and blinded all at once, then there was a cry. It was a big chrome and black motorcycle approaching and as the rider saw me and swerved, the rear wheel hit a patch of ice and slid.
The whole thing veered to the side of the road, barely scraping past me. The wheel spun in the gravel, turning the entire motorcycle on its end, and the rider lost the last ounce of control they had over the beast. The machine fell, landing heavily on the road, the clang echoing across the lonely moor.
I pressed back against the bluestone fence, my heart pounding wildly, and for a moment, I was fixed in place, shock setting in. I’d almost been squashed!
The rider scrambled away from the motorcycle and pulled off their helmet with an audible curse. The word was spoken with so much vitriol that I recoiled lest it be turned on me.
I now saw the rider was a man, his broad shoulders encased in black leather, his dark hair askew, and his jaw covered in the shadow of a beard that had grown in his neglect to clean shave. He was as wild as the look in his eyes, and when he turned to me, so came his anger.
I was rooted to the spot, partly due to the black motorcycle that had almost run me down and partly to the vehemence, which was now fixed upon me. My usual no-nonsense attitude had been dulled in the aftermath of such excitement, and I was rendered mute.
The man pushed himself to his feet, moving unsteadily on his left foot, the same foot that had been underneath the motorcycle.
“Dammit!” he exclaimed, hopping unsteadily. He leaned over and poked at his ankle, but the leather of his boot hindered him.
Finally, as the shock wore off and my heartbeat returned to normal, I found my voice and stepped forward to offer my assistance. “Are you injured, sir?”
He shooed me away, not even taking care to look at me, deciding insults were due punishment. “Are you a roadside bandit lying in wait to rob unsuspecting travelers? Or are you a modern-day gunslinger with a penchant for feminism?”
“Pardon?” I asked, my eyebrows rising in surprise, not expecting the words that gushed from his mouth. “I am no such thing.”
“Then you are a spirit sent to slit my throat,” he said with a snarl, limping over to his motorcycle.
“I am no such thing!” I exclaimed again. “I’m only walking to the village, which any person, living or dead, is free to do so.”
“The spirit has spirit,” the man drawled, brushing mud from his jacket. “From whence do you come?”
I pointed down the road toward the hotel. “Thornfield.”
“Thornfield? And pray, spirit, what do you do there?” He spread his arms wide, mocking my tone of voice.
“Many things,” I stated, my ire rising to match his. “None of which are your concern.”
“Do you work there?”
“Who owns it? Thornfield?”
“Mr. Rochester,” I replied.
“Do you know him?”
“No, I have never met him,” I said, curious at to the reason behind his questioning.
“You’ve never seen a picture, then? Googled to see who he is, perhaps?”
I shook my head. “I have no need.”
“No need?” The man seemed surprised. “Is he not in residence?”
He regarded me for a long moment, finally seeing that which was before him. His eyes were full of a quiet storm as he took in my attire and state of wildness. Whatever he thought, he kept it to himself, gesturing for me to step forward, instead.
“Help me right my bike,” he commanded. “It is the least you could do since my ankle is twisted, spirit.”
I nodded and pushed off the fence. As I approached, I took his appearance in as he had mine, finding him rugged and wild. He was not much taller than I, his shoulders wide and his attire plain but well suited for a motorcycle ride in the dark. Enclosed helmet, thick black jeans, black leather jacket and gloves, and big, black boots on his feet. He seemed past his youth, though he wasn’t old at all. Perhaps thirty to thirty-five though I was never a good judge of anyone’s age.
The man grasped the handlebars, his gloved hands curling around the grips, and I took the rear, pushing as he applied weight on the front. We righted the beast with little effort between us, and he threw his leg over with a grimace. Fetching his helmet, I held it out, my gaze lowering to his ankle.
“Do not bother yourself,” he said briskly, snatching the helmet from my hands. “What are you doing out in the dark?”
“I’m going to the village,” I replied, glancing down the road.
“You came from Thornfield?” he inquired again like he had already forgotten, and I nodded. “It is a hotel, yes? Do they not have a well-equipped bar?”
“It’s very well equipped,” I said, returning my hands to my jacket pockets. “I merely wished a change of scenery.”
His stormy eyes narrowed as he pondered my words like they were a riddle, and he grunted. “Then be quick about you,” he said. “It’s cold and dark out here. This lonely road is no place for a woman to walk alone.”
I would have scolded him for thinking me a weak-willed woman—I could fight as well as any—but he put on his helmet and kick started the motorcycle to life, the roar of the engine drowning out even my own thoughts. Then in a whirlwind, he took off down the lane toward Thornfield, his destination most likely the motorway and then to London beyond. No one ever stopped at Thornfield.
Turning back toward the village, I hurried off, my mind swirling over the events that had just passed.
It was an incident of no consequence, no romance or interest at all, but it was a moment. In a life that had become monotonous and empty in its unchanged routine, it was a mark of something, at least. A new face had been installed in my mental gallery, and it stood out because it was stern, masculine, and dark. All other faces had blurred in its wake.