Laura's golden eyes, brighter than they had been in the previous weeks but still containing a shadow of the illness she had suffered, ran across the lake of Edenbrook below her. With a gentle sweep of her wrist, she made the lake in her painting shine with the reflected light of the sun.
Matthew, laying in the grass beside her wheelchair, propped up on one elbow, looked up at her. The golden curls of her hair rolled lazily across her shoulders from the wind and occasionally blew in her face. The color was beginning to return to her cheeks and her movements were again becoming smooth and almost effortless. It had been a little over a week since little Nathan had visited the Laura and the invalid had taken a turn for the better. She still could not walk very well, both from her broken lag and from the weakness influenza had left in her body, and so she was confined to a wheelchair for the time being.
Though even less of a beauty than she had been before her illness, looking up at her now Matthew wondered how he had ever found her less the gorgeous. Everything about this young woman, from the tiny, whispy curls that framed her forehead, to the golden eyes that always shone with so much life, to the hands that never ceased to be doing something, to the small feet that loved to run through the mud, made Matthew's heart swell within him. Now he knew that he could never live without her.
Laura could sense Dr. Rochester's eyes on her, but tried not to notice. It had been he who had taken her up here and begged her to paint a portrait of the lake, and how could she refuse such an offer, when she had been confined to that stuffy little room for so long? Even now the smell and feeling of the fresh air caused her to sigh with pleasure. But she also did not feel at all comfortable being alone with Matthew. She remembered nothing from all the weeks she had been ill, except it be pain and suffering. The last thing she remembered before that was Matthew saying that he was leaving her and that he had never had any desire to marry her. What she didn't understand, then, was why hadn't he gone yet?
Unable to bear the silence much longer, Laura cleared her throat. "Why did ye bring me up here, Dr. Rochester?"
Matthew looked down at the blade of grass in his hands. "I thought you'd like to get out of that room. It was such a nice day out and… and I know how much you like days like this…."
Not completely satisfied with his answer, Laura thanked him softly. After another silence, Laura hesitated to ask her next question: "why haven't ye gone back to America yet?"
Now it was Matthew's turn to hesitate. "Well, you were sick…. I couldn't just leave you."
"Because… you needed a doctor. You might have died if I'd gone home."
"What difference would that have made to you? Ye had no intention of ever seein' me again anyway."
Matthew sat up, clearly troubled by her words. "That isn't true, Laura," he assured her. "I've always cared for you a great deal."
Laura finally looked down at him. "Ye don't have to lie to me, Matthew, just to make me feel better. You go on home to America, don't worry about me. I know in days to come ye'll forget all about the little Irish girl who thought herself in love with ye." She looked back to her painting. Even if she had wanted to say more, the lump in her throat wouldn't have allowed it.
Matthew sighed painfully. "Can you really believe that, Laura?" he asked. "Can you really believe that I could forget you so easily? That I don't love you more than anything?"
Laura's hands stopped painting and fell into her lap. When she turned to look at him, Matthew could see the tears shining in her sad eyes. She looked as though she was about to say something, but nothing came out.
Kneeling in front of her and taking her hand, Matthew shook his head. "I'm not a very open man, and it's difficult for me to tell you this. But Laura Knight, I love you. I…" he looked down. "I was afraid of falling in love again. I felt as if I was being unfaithful to Jane… as though I was forgetting her. But now… after those… those horrible days when… when I thought I might lose you…." he looked back up into her face. "I know now, that I could never live without you."
Laura's hand tensed in his. Tears trailed down her cheeks and her shoulders began to tremble with silent sobs.
Matthew got down on one knee in front of her. "Laura Knight," he said, "I'm a selfish man. And I have many faults. I don't show my emotions very much, but I would consider myself that happiest, most fortunate man alive, if you would overlook my mortal faults and consent to be my wife and a mother for my son."
The sobs that shook Laura's body suddenly became mingled with laughter and she smiled brightly through her tears. Unable to speak for joy, the young woman threw her arms around Matthew's neck and kissed him.
After the wet kiss ended, Matthew grinned. "Am I to take that for a yes?"
"Yes!" Laura laughed.
Completely overcome with his own happiness, Matthew lifted Laura up out of her wheelchair and swung her around joyfully.
It was hard for Laura not to smile with all the joy she felt at the moment as she sat in her wheelchair, facing Jodie Sugrew. "I have something to tell ye that I do not thing ye'll like, Jodie," she said.
The beautiful Irishwoman looked at her expectantly. "Oh, dearest Laura," she laughed uneasily, "I am so truly happy that you are well. Nothing ye have to say could perturb me."
Laura inhaled deeply. Oh, how difficult it was not to smile and burst out laughing with the happiness she felt at her next statement! "Dr. Rochester and I… we are engaged to be married."
To her surprise, Jodie merely laughed with relief. "Oh, is that all! Why even I could have told ye that it would happen sooner or later!"
Laura furrowed her brow. "But I thought you had feelings for Matthew."
Jodie waved that aside with a sweep of her graceful hand. "I did find him intriguing at one time, but it has always been quite clear to me that he was meant for you."
Laura laughed. "Oh, Jodie! I am so happy! If only I could see you so happy with a man."
"Well," a sly smile crossed the beautiful woman's face. "Who says I can't have me own American doctor?"
Laura smiled curiously.
"Dr. Henry Brown has come by a time or two," Jodie said in reply to the smile. "I find him quite sweet."
Miss Knight's smile broadened and she giggled. "Dr. Brown! Truly? Oh, Jodie, 'tis too perfect!
"Do ye think so? Mrs. Jodie Brown does not sound too horrible, does it?"
"No, indeed!" Then Laura sighed. "But if only it could sound as well as Mrs. Laura Rochester does."
"Were such a thing even possible!" Jodie laughed.
Laura stepped on her now-healed leg to be sure that it truly didn't hurt any longer and then smiled in satisfaction.
"Now, Laura. Ye've been checkin' that foot of yers all mornin'!" Maggy poked Laura's back with the needle in her hand. "Do ye want yer dress to be crooked?"
Laura looked over her shoulder at Maggy, sewing the last touches on the beautiful, white gown she now wore. "I'm sorry, Maggy. I'm just so nervous! Suppose I walk down the isle and trip in front of everyone because of this confounded leg?"
Jodie forced a light "ha!" as she picked at Laura's hair and added a touch of rouge here or there. "Laura Knight worryin' about trippin' in front of all of Edenbrook? I don't believe it fer an instant. Ye just are getting' impatient to see yerself in the mirror."
"Impatient to see Matthew and little Nathan is more like it," Laura replied longingly, bouncing on her heels a bit in anticipation.
Maggy poked her with the needle again. "Hold still," she warned. After another moment or two, Maggy finally stepped away and nodded in satisfaction. "There. Now ye're ready."
Smiling excitedly, Jodie took Laura's hand and turned her towards the mirror. "Surprise!" she cried. "Oh, Matthew will surly faint when he sees ye!"
"Ye look lovely," Maggy agreed.
And it was true. The white gown had once belonged to Maggy's mother, so it was quite old-fashioned with a large, hoop skirt that had layers or lacy frills running from waste to hem. The puffy sleeves were short and elegant while the neckline ran just below the collarbone. In its day, just around the end of the American Civil War, it had been quite the gown. But now it was more than a bit out of style. So Maggy had worked her magic on it so that the style was much more modern. It still looked a bit ancient, but that's what Laura loved about it. And it looked splendid on her slender form- accentuating the smallness of her waste and the slenderness of her arms.
Jodie had done Laura's hair herself and those golden curls had never looked so beautiful as they did now, piled atop Laura's head and then cascading down her shoulders and back in a fountain of ringlets. Maggy let out a small "oh!" as she remembered something and bustled out of the room, returning with a white, pearl-beaded tiara that she placed among the curls.
There was only a bit of powder and rouge on Laura's face, along with a swipe of black paint on her eyelashes, but the small additions brought out much of Laura's natural beauty.
After catching her breath –which had been taken from her upon seeing how nice she looked- Laura smiled. "Thank ye Maggy and Jodie." The two women nodded.
"Laura! Laura!" A small boy in a nice, little suit with a floppy, black hat on his nicely-combed head dashed into the room. He stopped when his big, blue eyes spotted the bride. "You look pretty!" he said.
Laura grinned. "And you look very handsome," she replied, bending over to straighten the little gentleman's bow tie in a motherly way.
Nathan stood up taller. "Miss Ann'belle combed my hair and put so much stuff in it that it's smooth like Pap's. She told me not to play or get dirty."
"Well I say ye can play all ye want after the wedding service is over," Laura said. Then she asked, "are ye all ready?"
"That's what I came in here for. Everyone's waiting for you."
Laura smiled. "Alright, I'll be right out."
Matthew stood at the end of the room, beside the altar. Laura smiled at him from her place on the isle, holding Mr. McFarley's arm. The kindly old man would be giving her away, though in his heart he still wished Laura to marry his son.
Father Marley smiled warmly as Laura stepped up to the altar and Matthew joined her. "Dearly beloved," he said with his powerful, gravely voice, his wizened hands holding before him a large, leather book, "we are gathered here to today to witness the joining of hands of…."
His voice trailed off in Laura's mind. The only thing she seemed to be aware of was Matthew in front of her, holding her hands and smiling lovingly at her through his dark, handsome eyes. Those eyes still held a bit of mystery in them, and Laura determined that she would spend the rest of her life with Matthew trying to understand that mystery and explore it to the fullest.
Laura's ears opened up when Matthew spoke. "I do."
Father Marley now recited the vows for Laura. "And do you, Laura Knight, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish 'till death do you part?"
Hardly able to contain her smiles, Laura nodded and looked deeply into Matthew's eyes as she replied, "I do."
Little Nathan stood by as the ring bearer, holding a velvet cushion in front of him upon which sat the two rings. He came forward when Mr. McFarley prodded him to do so and Laura smiled down on him. She leaned down and kissed his little, smiling cheek. Father Marley smiled. "We haven't gotten to that part yet, me dear." The assembled people laughed.
A golden ring with a simple diamond in his hand, Matthew looked into Laura's eyes. "With this ring," he spoke, repeating after Father Marley, "I thee wed." He slipped the smooth, golden band onto Laura's slender finger.
Now it was Laura's turn. "With this ring," she spoke, placing Matthew's ring on his finger, "I thee wed."
Smiling at both of them, Father Marley spoke once more. "And now, by the power vested in me, and in the company of your friends and family, I now pronounce you husband and wife in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen."
A muttered "Amen" ran like a wave through the congregation. Laura squeezed Matthew's hands in excitement and he squeezed hers back.
"Matthew Rochester," Father Marley said, "you may now kiss your bride."
As Matthew leaned forward and kissed Laura gently, the entire chapel broke into applause.
Had any members of the small town of Edenbrook not gone to the wedding, they'd have seen two happy people burst through the chapel doors with the happiest of smiles on their faces. Rice was thrown as Laura and Matthew Rochester descended the steps of the old building. A beautiful, white, horse-drawn carriage waited patiently out front and the happy couple climbed into it. Laura waved and blew kisses to Maggy, Jodie and Nathan as the carriage rode away. There were tears streaming down her old, foster mother's cheeks. Oh, how she would miss her!
And miss her, Laura did. She and her husband, along with their son, moved to New York shortly after the wedding for Matthew to commence his work as a doctor. Maggy wrote often and Matthew brought Laura and Nathan to visit her as often as was possible.
Not a year after they were married, Laura gave birth to a little girl with blonde hair and her father's dark eyes. She was respectfully named Elizabeth Jane Rochester. Not long after that, twins were born; a boy and a girl. To Laura and Matthew's surprise, each had hair the color of a bright carrot. These little red-heads were named Sarah and Daniel. And two years after the twins came baby Emily. But even with her four children, Laura always considered Nathan hers and each of the children was loved every bit as much as the other.
Jodie Sugrew happily married Dr. Henry Brown and the two of them settled down in Dublin, raising a family of seven children.
Throughout the years, Matthew and Laura continued to love each other dearly. In the years to come, when Elizabeth Jane would ask her mother where she'd met 'Papa', Laura would smile and reply, "among the hills of Edenbrook."
(A/N. It's over! You guys hated the ending, didn't you? Do you think it seems to rushed? Should I have made it into two separate chapters? There are other things I really wanted to get working on, so I might not have ended this very well in my haste.
Moonsinger- oh, you like? Good! Thank you for the compliment!
Renee- yep! You were right, Laura did get well very soon. Much sooner than you expected I think. Do you think I rushed this ending way too much?
Alexis Kent- Yes, I do tend to say that Matthew is handsome a lot, don't I? I guess I don't even realize I'm doing it. Thank for pointing that out, I'll watch for it in future stories I write.
Everyone- THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! Thank you for the reviews, advice, compliments, and if you haven't ever reviewed, thanks for reading! I love you all! Kudos to everyone!