Chapter Four:

Until the Day I Die


The third week, Johanna collapsed.

She was serving a customer. As she poured ale into his cup, a swirling sensation came over her. Johanna gripped the edge of the table to keep herself from tripping over her locked knees. She leaned into the small table.

"'All right there, miss?"

Johanna opened her mouth to answer. Her jaw clenched with the motion. Black spotted her vision.

She fell.

Raw pain plummeted down her back and limbs as she lifted herself up. Before slipping on nothing again.

The customer signaled Mrs. Lovett over. "I think your employee is unwell."

Johanna could feel the blood rush to the back of her head as Mrs. Lovett tilted her chin to examine her. She curled her lip and released her.

"She'll be fine," Mrs. Lovett said, "It must've been nothin' but a dizzy spell."

A shaky groan passed through Johanna's lips as she tried to stand. Her stomach twisted and rolled. Tossing and turning like an insomniac in bed. Was something ringing? The bell? No. That wasn't it. This was too low, too consistent.

The customer outstretched a hand to help her up. In a soft, watery voice, Johanna thanked him.

Johanna pulled herself to her feet, thanking the customer for allowing her to use him as a guide. She took the pitcher of ale and wandered into the back room.

"I need a moment," she wanted to say, but couldn't find her voice.

The world was gray and dark.

When Johanna came to her senses, her body was heavy. She grabbed at the air and found she was laying down. Covered with a thick quilt, she desperately wanted to throw off but found her weak muscles couldn't handle it. Johanna twisted her head. A thick braid draped over her shoulder, slapped her cheek.

She lifted her head to find a glass of water at her side. Johanna reached for it, only for the glass to slide away when her fingertips made contact. With a sigh, she climbed over the side of her bed. Her limbs protested as she grabbed the cup and took a sip. Her stomach churned.

The door swung open without the click of a lock. If she were awake, she could've gotten away.

Mr. Todd entered. His face was as harsh as always, but there was concern hidden behind the dark pools of his eyes. Johanna sat up. He closed the door behind him.

"What happened?" Johanna asked, grimacing at how weak her voice sounded.

"Mrs. Lovett found you in the backroom. She told me you had a dizzy spell earlier," Mr. Todd explained.

He neared her and Johanna flinched. He paused. Then stepped forward.

Mr. Todd laid his hand on her head, checking for a temperature.

His cold skin on her flushed forehead was a welcome comparison. She closed her eyes with a brief smile.

"You're warm," Mr. Todd observed.

"Is it bad?" she wondered, arching her neck to look at him.

He hesitated. "You'll recover."

She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten sick. Johanna was a healthy child, according to one of her nannies. Perhaps it didn't matter, then. But why was she experiencing fainting spells and fevers now?

Toby knocked before entering. He didn't wait for a response. He carried a plate of bread and stale crusts. Johanna lifted herself up to take it from him. The plate collided with her breast, causing her to grimace at a brief pain. Seeing Mr. Todd shift, she put on a weak smile.

"I'm all right," she said.

She couldn't explain such an embarrassing occurrence like that to Mr. Todd, of all people.

"Should I put tha' on the table for ya?" Toby wondered, reaching for the plate.

"That would be lovely. Thank you."

Mr. Todd left with Toby with a last glance at her. Johanna turned over in bed, suppressing a moan. She was going to be sick.

After emptying her stomach into a chamber pot, she closed her eyes. Not intending to sleep, just to rest. But she awoke hours later when the sun was setting. Mr. Todd was hovering over her. And Mr. Todd was there. Johanna kept her eyes shut.

He adjusted a lock of hair and kissed one of her fingertips. Wordlessly, he left.

How long had he been there? As much as Johanna disliked to think of him as her father, he was. Fathers worried, she supposed. Even Mr. Todd.

The morning greeted her with less nausea.

Johanna felt well enough to read by the fire. She nibbled on bread crusts in the evening.

Her sickness may have gone, but Anthony still wasn't back.

Mr. Todd never mentioned this. Yet Johanna was sure he was glowering behind her back. She was here forever. There was no Anthony to steal her.

As soon as her illness cleared up, she found herself bent over the bucket again, sick to death. Johanna didn't tell, and she was better by the afternoon.

But the nausea in the morning didn't stop. She never told. Usually, Johanna ignored it enough she forgot about it. Although the pies thrust into her face, every morning caused her stomach to churn.


There was a pound in his head, like a drum, as Anthony slowly opened his eyes. This wasn't the sea. The gentle motion of waves drifting him back and forth wasn't there. Something damp laid on his forehead. A prickly fabric, he was certain, made his headache worse.

"Johanna?" Anthony rasped.

Someone let out a shriek. His eyelid flashed open.

"He's awake!"

Awake? Well, he couldn't have been asleep for long.

The fire. Johanna. Heat.

Something dark squeezed his lungs. Anthony burst into a coughing fit, sending him into a sitting position. The damp rag fell to his lap. Once he calmed down, he surveyed the surrounding area. Rows of pale persons in cots surrounded him. A hospital. The nurse nearest to him approached him, with a hand resting on her chest.

"Where's Johanna?" he asked.

She furrowed her brow. "I'm, uh . . ." She wrung her hands together. "I'm not sure who Johanna is, sir."

"Johanna Hope, ma'am. She's my wife. She got out of the building. I saw." Anthony glanced around again before looking back at the nurse. "Is she here? Has she been here?"

"I don't know, sir."

Anthony sank back. He shouldn't have assumed the nurse would know Johanna. Yet the uncertainty that flowed through him stung. Was she safe?

"Lay down, please," the nurse said, "You need to rest."'

He did so with hesitation. Anthony noticed the bandages wrapped around his arm.

"Do you know what happened, ma'am? After the fire?"

The nurse picked up the rag again, dipping it into the small bowl at his bedside and wringing it out. She pat it against his forehead again, then dabbed the rag down to his cheeks.

"The priority for the men getting the fire out was to save the women and children first. They found you later, passed out on the ground. Seems you got a few burns - nothing too bad, really, but we'll keep you here for a few days."

Anthony found the door. Longing to pull open the doors and run out. He promised to find Johanna. But they would drag him back. Perhaps, even strap him down, to prevent him from escaping again. Like they did with Sam.

"How long have I been here?"

The nurse moved the rag to his arm, rubbing away the ash there. "A day or so."

Anything could happen in a day.

"Ma'am, I must thank you for everything, but I need to be on my way."

"Sir"-she pressed a hand on his chest-"We need to keep you here for at least a few days, as I've said before. You need to heal."

A few days where Johanna was alone. Where she was wandering the streets unprotected. Lost and alone and afraid.

"But-"

"If you need to contact your wife, consider writing her a letter."

But when Anthony brought pen to paper, ripples of pain flowed through his head. Preventing him from writing. He tired again. No success. The nurse sent him a pitiful look as she took the materials from him.

"Try again later, sir."

"No. Wait!" Anthony grabbed her arm. She turned around and he let go. "Could someone - whose not busy, of course - act as my scribe?"

The nurse paused. "All right. I'll find someone willing. But, you promise, young man, you promise to stay in bed."

"Of course, ma'am! Thank you, ma'am!"

Anthony didn't learn the name of the man who came by to assist him. He carried a hurried air to him. They skipped the introductions. The man jotted down whatever Anthony asked him to. He folded the letter and rose.

"Where should I send this, sir?" the man wondered.

Anthony hesitated. "The Deep Lily Inn post. I think she'll find it there."


"You have a letter, Mr. Hope."

His heart skipped a beat as he took the envelope from the nurse. Anthony thanked her and smiled. He tore it open without glancing at the return address. He unfolded the paper inside.

Dear Mr. Hope,

It wasn't Johanna.

His heart sank.

No, it was a letter from the shipping company, ordering him back to service. Anthony supposed he had been awake for some time now. Caught up with Johanna. He neglected his duties. But Anthony couldn't leave now. The hospital would not let him leave any time soon, and he needed to find Johanna.

Anthony was well enough to compose a letter, explaining bits and pieces of his situation. Within days, they reached an agreement. This next trip wouldn't take long. Anthony would be back with Johanna sooner than he originally thought.

He didn't get a response from Johanna.

The hospital released him with minor instructions to rest. Anthony gathered what he could.

As he made his way towards the docks, he passed Fleet Street.

He thought nothing of it. Until they made it in France. It dawned on him as he wandered through the streets, admiring the houses.

Mr. Todd.

Anthony scribbled all of his thoughts down back in the inn he was staying at. He leaned back in his chair before sending it. Hoping it was enough.


A letter arrived in the post. It came in an envelope without the official stamp of government affairs. Meaning, it wasn't bills or taxes. It was something else.

Anthony.

Since Johanna was the only one in the household to check through the mail, it was easy to slip the letter into her pocket without notice.

"Johanna!" Mrs. Lovett called, "There's a customer waitin' for ya!"

"Coming!"

The letter burned in her pocket for the rest of the day. After the sun went down, Johanna rolled over in bed and lit a candle where she read the contents of Anthony's letter.

Johanna,

I cannot express how sorry I am. I have deserted you for weeks with no reason why. I'm writing this letter in order to explain myself to you. I fear you'll never forgive me. But I promise, Johanna, I love you. I would never leave you on purpose.

The priory of the firefighters was to save the women and children from the inn. By the time they found me, I had passed out. Later, I woke in a hospital. The poor nurse tending to me nearly jumped out of her skin when I shouted your name. I suffered various burns and had hit my head on the door. I stayed at the hospital for some time. I received a letter ordering me to go back to service. I was still healing, so I wrote back and explained the circumstances. I won't bore you with the details of our interactions. But we rearranged details. My employers were insistent I leave, although I tried to give a vague explanation about you. I would've quit. But these are hard times, Johanna. I need to provide for you. Please understand.

I am writing from a port off the coast of France. I found a cottage during my stay. It's perfect. We can easily walk to the shore. It's big enough for a small family if we choose to have one. I promise I will get back to you as soon as possible. My journey should not last over three months.

I love you, Johanna.

Your husband,

Anthony

With shaking hands, Johanna held the letter close to her. Taking in wisps of sea salt. She could see their cottage. The low iron fence that would line the outside. Yellow paint and a garden filled with petunias. A portrait of their family would hang over the fireplace. One room would blush pink with floral patterns. She always wanted a room at Turpin's that was pink. A pink room to read in and nothing else.

Yet she was away from Anthony for months. He didn't know where she was and she was certain he wasn't in France, anymore.

Johanna kept the letter in her pocket. Apron or otherwise. She read the words to herself before she fell asleep. Even when she was exhausted one night, she couldn't force herself to sleep. Not until she read his letter again. Then the night welcomed her with a restful sleep.