Saturday, 1 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 01a (midnight writing)

The sun unfurled lazily through the morning mist. Shards of light crashed through the autumn leaves decorating the estate and in their schoolroom two girls looked excitedly at each other. One erupted with glee, before settling into a decorous, ladylike pose, while the other smiled quietly as they prepared to leave and head to the main part of the house.

The first girl bounded downstairs, leaping and dancing along hallways, landing surprisingly quietly until she reached the most opulent part of the house. Her she resumed her sedate state. The other had tagged along behind – laughing silently at her sisters antics, but not participating until specifically caught up in the maelstrom.

Now both of them faced their parents. The first girl – Rose – knocked quietly and entered her mother's drawing room formally when invited to. The second – Helen – walked quickly and with the air of one sure of her welcome into her father's study.

Their ambition was the same; to be granted permission to play outside on the first sunny day anyone had seen for weeks. The mother petulantly waved the child away from her. There were no visitors that morning, no need for the child to be seen. The father recognised the signs of suppressed excitement in his eldest daughter, smiled and waved Helen out of his sight.

The two girls met in the hallway and, grinning, sped upstairs to collect bonnets, gloves and coats before going outside. They played happily in the wilder gardens beside the kitchens – more butterflies were here during summer and so the girls developed a preference for it. Now the air was chilled, even the birdsong had stopped and they subconsciously began to drift away. A quiet mewling sound led them to investigate the presence of some unexpected kittens. Large enough to leave their mother, yet small enough to be incredibly playful, the kittens discovered the two girls and invited them to join a game of chasing falling leaves. The two girls laughed and played and ran along with the miniature felines.

As they rounded the corner of the house the girls, without realising, automatically restrained their behaviour. While their father believed the girls should be children, their mother was adamant that they should be young ladies at all times. Whenever they were likely to be in sight of her, they had learned long ago it was better to seem as restrained as possible.

The presence of the kittens slightly distracted Helen and she was laughing aloud as one particularly adventurous kitten tried to chase three leaves at once. She reached out to snag one of he leaves herself, misjudged and fell. Unhurt, she rapidly stood up again but her hands were now encrusted with dirt. In tacit agreement, Helen left Rose to play while she washed her hands.

It was almost an hour later when Rose realised Helen should have returned long since. Curious and concerned – suspecting her mother might have spied her dirtiness – Rose returned to the house. She headed straight to her own room and sure enough, Helen was locked in there. Rose knocked on the door and spoke to her in hushed, comforting tones. Inside, Helen was audibly sobbing. When the sobs didn't abate, Rose became increasingly worried and decided to plead with her father for Helen's release, or at least for the option of comforting her.

She hurried downstairs but mid way down the final flight she came to a halt. The door to her father's study was shut, but she could clearly hear both her parents speaking – shouting, if truth be told – although she couldn't quite make out the words. Suddenly the door burst open and her mother came out, white lipped and taut. She stalked away from him, screeching “And I will make certain you never again have the opportunity to commit such a sinful act!”

He followed her to the door: also white faced and visibly angry. He was dishevelled – his wig askew and his waistcoat hastily fastened, but seemed somehow more contained than the impeccably presented, furious woman currently lashing out verbally and physically at the footman as she retrieved her riding crop and a bonnet.

Rose and her father watched her mother leave. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. About to turn into his study he noticed his younger daughter perched on the stairs. “Are you alright pumpkin?”

She was briefly mute, aware that something momentous was happening, but then the urgency of her original errand caught up with her and she quickly shook her head. “If you please, papa, may I be allowed to be with Helen? She is truly distressed and I do not want her to be alone.”

Her father's eyes sharpened and focused on her; “Where is she?”

“Sir, she is locked in our bedroom.”

“Come with me,” he sprang into action, already unfolding the correct keys out of his pocket as he headed up the stairs at a dignified yet rapid pace. Opening the door he allowed Rose to precede him and he hesitated on the threshold as he considered his elder daughter. She was sobbing still, although she had made an effort to dim the sound as the door was opened. She lay huddled in bed, curled in a tight ball, seeking some kind of comfort from her pillows.

Rose clambered onto the bed behind her and she flinched slightly, but hearing her voice, Helen was able to relax and her breathing became more natural. When her father was satisfied she was no longer hysterical, he prompted her to sit up, and prepare for a servant to bring her a glass of lemonade and then wash her face and hands before dinner. They would, he informed them, be eating in the schoolroom due to the disruption of the day.

Relieved to avoid their mother, neither girl made any demur and their father left. Rose spent the afternoon and early evening trying to soothe Helen, who would periodically break into spasmodic sobs. It was several hours later when the news was brought to them by their governess – their mother had gone riding and in her rage had misjudged a wall. The horse had thrown her into a stone wall and she had been killed outright.

Rose, antagonised by Helen's suffering and blaming her mother entirely, felt a brief spurt of savage satisfaction. This was short lived however, as it was swamped by concern for Helen, who upon hearing the announcement had turned completely white as her eyes darkened to solid black and she fainted.

She stared out of the window, shivering in the cold despite the thick heavy shawl wrapped around her. Her feet were icy cold, and the fire wasn't lit but she didn't want to return to the bed.

Rose had collapsed into exhausted sleep once again and Helen could neither bear to wake her nor relinquish the fear of her dreams starting again. To return to bed, and thereby return to sleep, might cause both. In the darkness of the pre dawn hour, she stood alone. She had decided years before that while a sofa or chair would be more comfortable, and certainly wrapping her feet up would be easier on them! She got so bored of staring at the same four walls night after night. It had now become a habit with her that wherever she was, when the dreams woke her she would retreat to the window and stare outwards until her eyes became accustomed and she could pick out motion and activity.

Now, she couldn't see very much at all. There was a lit torch close to the window on the outside of the building: lighting the way for any late (or early) traveller. The post would be through shortly after dawn, but stage coaches ran through the night in this part of the country. As a result, the world outside was unremittingly black, but as was her habit she stood, gazing outwards and instead cast her mind over the last two days.

She had known for a long time that she would have to make her debut. Her father's death had given her an excuse to delay it and, although she sensed her aunt's reluctance to agree a postponement, the agreement had finally come – the sisters would be presented together. Helen did not look forward to it with any pleasure. Rose did and Helen had every confidence that she would make and excellent match. For herself, she preferred her books, her sewing, her artwork. All these things she could sink her heart and soul into more readily than the prospect of spending a year entrapping some unfortunate gentleman into matrimony.

In the trundle bed near the door the maid snored incessantly. Helen sighed and dropped her head against the window frame. Below her a flash of light indicated a door opening. Weary, she dropped her eyelids, but remained huddled under her shawl near the window. Beneath her, the gentleman strolled the courtyard casually; hidden from her sight in the shadows. As she adjusted her shawl, the flicker of white caught his eye and he gazed admiringly at the ethereal form, so fragile and alone, so unselfconscious.

After a brief look, he bored of it and returned to his previous activity, pacing around the courtyard, willing himself to relax, uncertain what had awoken him in the first place.

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