But a Walking Shadow

Chapter One

‘O mother; mother! What have you done?  Behold, the heavens do ope, the gods look down, and this unnatural scene they laugh at.’

Coriolanus Act 5 Sc 3

 

It came again.  That horror.  How could I have thought that it had gone forever?  Desperately I resisted and struggled, a crushing weight on my chest grinding into me as I tried to cry out,

‘Help me! Help me!’  

 The words crackled from my lips as bony fingers tightened on my throat, choking my breath from me.  My eyelids seemed glued together, and no amount of effort could prise them apart.  I was paralysed, and unable to move. My whole body trapped by some unknown suffocating presence.  Hysteria rising and rigid with fear, I clenched my teeth, agonisingly struggling for my life.  Over and over, I tried to convince myself that it was only that familiar childhood nightmare, only now there were no words of comfort and reassurance from a caring mother.

At last, I prised my eyes open and saw what I most dreaded.  That grotesque figure’s demented bloodshot eyes staring into mine.  The hideous thing cackling at me, laughing insanely.  A monstrous gargoyle, crouching, grinning and salivating in the gloom.  The slime dripping down in globules from his cavernous mouth. I screamed out loud and as I did so, the skeletonal fingers released their grip and the monster faded into a transparent shade, the weight lifted and I was free.

  Shaken I leapt from the bed and frantically looked around but there was no one there.  I was alone in an unfamiliar half furnished cold and dirty room.    Shivering with cold, I caught sight of my white face in the mirror, a phantom in the dawn’s early light.  Beads of perspiration trickled down my face and I scrubbed them frantically away, leaving salty traces on my lips. I brushed away the damp hair that clung to my face, only to find that the strands were imaginary wisps and I desperately tried to rub away the invisible hair that stuck to my wet skin.   Shuddering and gasping, I realised that the nightmare that had haunted my dreams in childhood had just been laying dormant, waiting to return.

Confused I looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings, trying to make sense of it all.  Then I remembered.  This was Stoneleigh. I had passed an anxious night in a room in my dead sister’s home.  The glorious, ornate building full of riches, where she had lived after her marriage to Roland Fitzroy.  The grand, castellated building that I left only five years ago, which last night had greeted me with horror and decay?

 The torn pieces of the letter lay on the floor and as I reached out for them, a stabbing pain shot through my arm.  A deep bloody scratch showed through the ripped folds of my sleeve where I had caught it on the tangled branches, as I had made my way in the moonlight. Instead of the welcome I expected, I had to find my way through the overhanging branches that obscured the path that led down to the entrance.  Tripping and ducking through the bushes of the landscaped garden that was now so unrecognisable, the area so run down that if it was not for the turrets in the distance I would have thought I was in the wrong place.

Although still in my outdoor clothes, I shivered with cold. What had possessed me, Aphra Devereaux, to travel here from Paris?  My frozen fingers toyed with the pieces of the unsigned letter that had led me to this place of dread. Who was that large woman in the bright pink dress that had opened the door?  Why had Roland greeted me with such fury and shoved us both with such force that this woman and myself fell in a crumpled heap on the marble steps?  I could make no sense of it.  What had happened to change everything?  The picture of him cursing me so vehemently was imprinted in my brain.  Why had my dead sister’s husband been so frightening and unrecognisable? 

I tried to warm myself, rubbing my shoulders, ignoring the pain in my arm as I recalled how Roland had greeted me, screaming at me insanely.  The man I remembered was now so different.  His face had been puffy and swollen and he appeared so thin and stooped, as he loomed over me.   The unknown, large woman had pulled herself to her feet, screaming back at him and had forced herself in between us to protect me.  Forlornly trying to suppress the tears, I desperately wanted to leave the place that had held such promise and where I had known such happiness.  My first thoughts were only to run away, but I had nowhere to run to. 

Now sad and alone in this dirty, dust-covered bedroom, I was endlessly going over the events of the night before. Why had my brother in law been so angry at my arrival?   I had tried to explain about the letter, but he wrenched it from my hand and tore it into pieces, throwing the bits in the air.  He had grabbed me as I scrabbled in the dark to pick them up, and shaken me so violently that my head spun. The force ripped my hat from my head and my unruly hair had tumbled down. In an instant, he let out a terrible animalistic howl that sent a shudder through me.  Yanking my hair so hard it jolted my head back, he hit his own head violently against the doorframe.  All the time screaming obscenities in a strangulated voice.

‘What do you want?  Who told you to come? Leave me alone!’

Then he manhandled us both off the step and slamming his fist into the door, he stormed away. The woman and I had stared at each other, unable to speak, as she helped me and we both gave an involuntary start at the sound of an interior door crashing shut.

 I did not understand what was happening.  I had been excitedly looking forward to staying in my dead sister’s home.  The place I had spent so many happy hours with the Fitzroy family after she married Roland, but now his behaviour seemed insane.   The woman had smiled at me and tidying her greying, blonde hair had asked in a London East End accent,

‘What yer doing ‘ere miss?’

I had tried to explain about the letter, now in shreds, but the words stuck in my throat.  Instead I mumbled incoherently as she placed an oil lamp close to my face and said,

You’re ‘er wot died’s sister ain’t yer?  Yes, I can see it now.  Same red ‘air.’   As she spoke, I tried to cram the curls back under my hat as she handed me the light and pointed the way up a grim staircase where I wandered along dark corridors until I found a cold, damp room to spend the night.  There I had spent a miserable time clutching my cloak around me trying to keep warm. All the while feeling terrified of noise and shadows, in case it was Roland coming to berate me again.

  At last, I had fallen into an exhausted sleep only to be woken this morning by my childhood night terrors.  During my sister’s time, this house had been so grand, yet now it seemed dark and threatening.    I tiptoed to the door and peered down the long corridor.  Everywhere was still and I could see that all the paintings and ornaments had disappeared.  Stoneleigh was not the place I remembered.  I sat down on the hard, bed in despair, uncertain what to do. As I did so I heard the door creak open to reveal the woman from the previous night, still dressed in her pink finery.  She was perspiring and out of breath from climbing the stairs and clung on to the doorframe for support.

‘God all mighty! I ain’t managed all them stairs for years.  It’s me ‘eart,’ she exclaimed gasping for air, ‘She smiled at me as I waved the pieces of letter at her.

‘Did you send me the letter?’ I asked. 

‘Not me!  I ain’t got no learning.’

‘Well someone did.’ I replied.  I came all the way from France because I thought I would be welcome. I thought that Roland would be pleased to see me.’

She smiled forlornly, folding her arms across a well-padded breast.

‘E ain’t well.’

‘Are you the housekeeper?’

‘Lord no.  There ain’t no money for no servants.’

Miserably, I murmured,

‘I shouldn’t have come.’  

‘ No.  What was yer thinking of?’

I looked around at the dirty room devoid of all luxury with only bare floorboards and sighing said,

‘I do not know.  I thought…’ I did not continue.  There was nothing to say.  It did not matter.  My hopes of a new life after my father’s death were as nothing.  It was all a mistake.  I sighed heavily and picked up my travelling bag.  I had no change of clothes as my trunk had been sent separately and I mournfully picked at my torn, bloodied sleeve, trying to repair it.

The woman came over for a closer inspection.

‘You’ve ‘urt yer arm.  I spect yer did it on them blooming bushes.  They’re a death trap, but there ain’t no one to look after ‘em now.  I’ll fetch yer some water and yer can bathe it.’

‘Thank you, but please do not bother.  I can see the stairs are too much for you.  It is quite dry now and I have no other clothes to change.’   She nodded and we both stood in embarrassed silence.  All my hopes had been placed on an expected welcome from Freya’s husband. The least I expected was that I could stay happily in my sister’s house.   Standing up, my bones stiff with cold, I wrapped the stained bed cover around me and tried to warm my frozen hands by blowing on them.   She observed me in silence as with my breath turning to steam in the cold air, I tried to rub some of the smears off the dirty windows and look out.  In the distance of the early morning light, I could see the remains of the roman folly.  It had been a place where Freya and I had spent so many happy hours talking and laughing.  Wandering amongst the classical statues that decorated the landscaping that led down to the lake.  Now everywhere was overgrown and unrecognisable, yet it had previously been maintained by legions of staff.  Sadly, I asked,

 ‘What happened?  Stoneleigh was such a wonderful place, with parties and balls, now it looks deserted. Everywhere is so unkempt. Where are the carpets?  Where are all the paintings?  There used to be a crystal chandelier on the stairway.  Where has it all gone?

‘No money left,’ she said in a matter of fact tone and sat down heavily on the bed.

‘How can it be?  The family has the estate.  Surely, Edmund must be aware of the situation?  What is he doing about it?’

At the mention of Edmund’s name her eyes brightened but she did not reply.  I continued trying to obtain answers.  Five years ago, the day before I left for Paris my sister had held a grand county ball in a place that in those few years had become unrecognisable. Shaking my head in disbelief, I sighed,

‘Edmund and I danced the night away. Now the place seems like a house of shadows.’

‘You must have been no more than a child then?’ She smiled in a motherly fashion.

‘I was sixteen.’ Forlornly I toyed with the pieces of paper and replaced them in their rightful order and read the words aloud.

  ‘Come to Stoneleigh. Your sister’s child needs you.’    

As I did so, I sensed a change in the woman’s expression and seizing the moment, I quickly asked,

 ‘Do you know about this child?  My sister died in childbirth, didn’t she?  Did the child live?’

The woman squirmed uncomfortably and whispered,

‘I don’t know nothing ‘bout anyfing.’

‘But you are the housekeeper.  You must know what happens here.’

Affronted she stood up and pulled herself into a majestic pose, tottering slightly as she did so,

‘I told yer before, I ain’t no housekeeper.  Me name is Rosie. I’m a friend of the family.’

I stared in amazement; this woman was much too lower class to be a family friend?  I could not believe that she was not one of the servants.

‘A friend?’ I tried to keep the astonishment I felt out of my voice.  Her expression now one of resentment she tossed her head disdainfully and began walking grandly around the room.

‘If it weren’t for me, where would ‘e  be? That is what I’d like to know.  I have cared for ‘im when everyone else ‘as abandoned him.’

‘I don’t understand.’ I said weakly.

‘I told yer. You shouldn’t ave come.’ She said in an affronted manner and indignantly left the room, grandly holding up the edges of her frayed, pink silk dress. I heard her heavy breathing as she made her way downstairs.  It was all most strange if this woman wasn’t the housekeeper what was she doing there?

Disconsolately I sought to wash my face but when I picked up a nearby china ewer, I hastily put it down.  It was full of dead insects floating in greenish liquid.  The water had obviously been standing for some time and with disgust, I struggled to open a cracked window and threw out its contents.   As I did so, I heard the doorknob rattle and I quickly slammed the window shut and held up the jug as a weapon, in case it was Roland.  Heart pounding I watched as the door edged open but to my surprise, it revealed a small child in the doorway.  She was dirty with lank, greasy hair and was clutching a piece of material that could possibly once have been silk, but was now unrecognisable, wrapped around a dirty rag doll.  Thin and undernourished, she stared at me with large eyes that seemed too big for her white face. Relieved it wasn’t Roland I smiled at her, but she didn't speak and continued to stare at me.  She was clad in a thin cotton shift, but did not seem to be aware of the cold.  The small figure stood there frozen like a little statue. 

‘Come in,’ I smiled, ‘you will catch cold; let me put my cloak round you and keep you warm.’

I moved towards her, but she quickly scampered out of the room.  I ran behind her but she disappeared down the endless corridor.   For a moment, I thought I was dreaming again, but then I noticed the scatter of footprints in the disturbed dust on the landing.  Slowly I followed them as they led up staircase after staircase, but still there was no sign of her.  At last, I had reached the attic area, and still hadn’t found the child.

 The footprints suddenly ended but did not seem to lead anywhere.  I shuddered and felt as if someone had walked over my grave.  A thought suddenly struck me. Could this child be an apparition, or a ghost?  I was beginning to let my imagination run away with me because the house was so dank and depressing. Losing my nerve, I began to run back down the stairs.  As I did so the sun began to shine through a large picture window, lighting up the area, highlighting the dust that floated around but it made me pause for thought.  Feeling foolish, I recovered myself and taking hold of the banister to return to my room, I recoiled with disgust, as my hands slipped on the greasy wood and became covered in thick grime. 

Trying to rub them clean, I noticed that there was a large faded square on the wallpaper, where a painting had once held prime position.  I tried to recall what had hung there, and then I remembered it was where Freya’s portrait had been. The one that had been specially commissioned for her wedding day, when she had looked so beautiful in her green silk gown. Her glorious mane of red hair had been draped and pinned with pearls, and she had been wearing the Fitzroy diamonds.  Surely that exquisite jewellery must be locked away somewhere as it had been in the family for generations.  I felt so confused and overwhelmed that I sat down on the stairs and leaned against the greasy banister feeling abandoned and alone.

After a few moments, I pushed the maudlin thoughts aside and began to wonder about the child again.  I had been so overwrought after the night’s events that perhaps she did not exist, but had been the product of an overactive imagination. Was that waif the real reason why Rosie had not escorted me up the stairs?  Could there be a ghost of a child haunting the place? I had never heard of such a rumour but then the house went back generations.  Surely, every mansion has a ghost? 

As I looked around again I noticed a covered frame propped against the wall, and thinking it was the one of Freya, I pulled back the cover.  Instead, it revealed Major Edmund Fitzroy, Roland’s brother.  It was a relief to see a familiar face staring back at me, he was younger than I remembered, but his blue eyes that had always been so distinctive seem to follow me around.  He looked so lifelike that I began talking to him for reassurance. The picture gave me courage and made me pull myself together.  The child could not be a ghost.  Ghosts do not leave footprints   

Making my way back up to where I had last seen her, I called out, but there was no answer.  Then as I returned to the attic landing, I saw there was a door that was very slightly ajar.  I walked along and gently pushed it open more widely and found the little girl cowering behind it.  However, as I did so I instantly recoiled at the stench that emanated from that room.  It was so powerful that it took my breath away, the smell of ammonia, stung my eyes and tears blurred my vision.  I placed a handkerchief over my nose and mouth and trying not to inhale too deeply, I entered the disgusting room, calling out to the girl as I did so,

 ‘Come out of here immediately.’

My voice sounded strange and echoing in the empty room.

The child swung round startled, at the sound of my voice, even though she had known I was there, her eyes rolling with terror.  Then seeing me her expression changed.  Seemingly unaffected by the overpowering atmosphere, she began to chant to her doll as she wrapped and unwrapped it in the shabby piece of silk that she had been holding and began talking in a strange high pitched fashion.

‘Don’t yer worry Annie; it ain’t ‘im.  ‘E ain’t going to ‘urt yer.’

Her accent was the same as the woman called Rosie and assuming it was her child I tried to persuade her to leave the room.

‘Is your doll called Annie?’

The child still ignored me, still cooing quietly to the doll.

‘Annie is all right.  Yer can sleep now.  The man ain’t ‘ere today.’

I was puzzled, why wouldn’t this poor little waif answer me?   Why was there such a dreadful smell in the dingy room?  I took her arm and gasped as her skin was like ice.  She seemed oblivious to my touch as I took off my cloak and wrapped it round her thin body.  As my arms went round her shoulders, she instantly reacted.  Her body stiffened and making strange animal noises she backed against the wall. 

The atmosphere was now becoming unbearable, but she wouldn’t move and was rigid and unyielding.  Not knowing what else to do, I staggered out of the room, the smell making my head swim.  Leaving her, I ran down the many staircases, until I was back in the reception hallway.  Ahead of me, I could see through an open door, into the dining room.  Like my bedroom, it was empty of furniture and had no carpet. All that remained in the room was a naked marble statue of a woman holding a lamp and a black granite bust of Beethoven on the mantelpiece and a damaged table.  The ornate gold framed mirror that had once hung above the fireplace had also been removed.

As the sun shone through the high windows, permeating the house, I was beginning to feel a little warmer.  I strode purposefully along the oak panelled corridors, trying all the doors but most of them were locked.  It was a strange sensation, making me feel as if I was still dreaming as I wandered down the endless corridors. Occasionally I found a room open, but it would only contain odd items of furniture.  Everywhere was devoid of any objects or items of value. Unable to find anyone I sat down on a chair padded in well-worn red velvet, only to be enveloped in clouds of dust making me cough and the sound broke the silence.  Everywhere was still and I was uncertain whether I was alone or whether Roland was in the house.

 ‘I can’t stay here,’ I said to myself.  I still had friends in London, and surely they would help me?   However, until arrangements could be made, there was nothing that could be done.  I would have to remain at Stoneleigh, if my brother in law would permit it.  Since my father’s death, there was certainly nothing for me in Paris. After the reception on my arrival, I was uncertain what my future would be.  I tried to console myself that in the cold light of day Roland would be in a more affable frame of mind.   He had looked so gaunt and ill.  I wondered if he was still grief stricken over my sister’s death but it had been four years.  He had been such a kind, loving husband and brother in law, it was not possible that he could have changed that much.

I found the study door, and looked into the room. The heavy drapes were closed and there was no natural light.   However, in the gloom I could see that the shelves were still covered in books, but there were papers untidily littered around and there slumped over the desk was Roland.  There was also a strong medicinal smell pervading the air, which I recognised from my father’s sick room. It was the smell of chloral that emanated from the brown, ribbed medicine bottles that were lying around.    I stood for a moment looking at the wasted figure, snoring loudly.  He was dirty and unkempt, his eyes were shut and his face, which was slightly turned toward me, had an unhealthy, purple tinge.   

Spilt on the floor were the remnants of a jug of ale, now seeping into a pool of congealed stickiness on the floor.  The heavy snoring informed me that he was at least alive.  As I turned to leave, a movement caught my eye and I suddenly realised that there was another figure stirring in the shadows.   Rosie was sitting quietly on a wooden chair in a dark corner of the room.  She held her finger to her lips, silently gesturing to me not to speak.  Then standing up stiffly, she led me quietly out of the room and gently closed the door.

‘Don’t wake ‘im miss, ‘e has been up all night.’

I answered with annoyance that Roland needed to be woken. I wanted to speak to him, believing that he was not ill but sleeping off the effects of his drinking.  Rosie sighed and sat down awkwardly on a carved wooden settle by the parlour door.  She looked as though she had the cares of the world upon her shoulders. However, now in the sunlight I was amazed by her appearance. She appeared to be about forty years old and her lined, pallid face was heavily rouged; making an odd and grotesque appearance on, what I could tell, had once been a pretty face.  She leaned forward and put her head in her hands.

‘You don’t know ‘ow ‘ard it ‘as been Miss.  I’ve tried my ‘ardest but it is no good.’

I was nonplussed,

‘Yes! It must be very hard trying to run the house, but the place is filthy.’

A look of anger flashed over her strained face, and she assumed a more refined accent, that was destroyed by the lack of grammar in her speech.

‘What can I do about it? I told yer, I ain’t no ‘ousekeeper, I’m only ‘ere as a friend.  Why, it is only ‘cos of ‘ow good ‘e and Edmund ‘as been to me that I keep coming.  ‘Ow can there be any servants when we ain’t got no tin. I’ve sold everything I can fink of and it still ain’t enough!’

‘You sold everything,’ I responded with irritation.  How dare this woman sell things belonging to my sister?

Rosie immediately adopted the lofty tone that she had used earlier as she retorted,

‘I was merely trying to ‘elp.’

‘What about my sister’s jewellery?’

‘They went first,’ she continued.

 ‘Then there must be money. Why are there no servants?’ I asked

‘They won’t stay, we can’t pay ‘em, and they are all frightened of ‘im Miss.’ 

‘But when my sister was alive, this place was full of servants!’

‘Your sister, it was ‘er fault, ‘e should never ‘ave, married ‘er, ‘e was never…..’

Shocked at her tone I interrupted her,

‘I would ask you not to speak of your master’s dead wife in that way.’ 

Rosie bristled,

‘’E ain’t my master.’

‘I don’t understand all this,’ I said becoming impatient.

The woman shrugged,

‘I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but ‘e ain’t been the same man since.’ 

I looked at her intently and realised that despite the rouge she looked very tired.  Realising that there was nothing to be gained by losing my patience I softened my reply.

‘I suppose it has been difficult for Roland after my sister’s death.  I had no idea about any of this.  We received no letters after Freya died, apart from the one I showed you.  It is very good of you to try to help.  However, surely you should take your child home.  It is not appropriate to bring your child here.  She is quite blue with cold.’

Rosie smiled wearily,

‘My child? I ain’t got no child.  Whatever gave you that idea?’

‘Surely she is yours? That tiny child who is hiding in a room at the top of the house.’ 

Rosie looked puzzled,

‘A child upstairs?  Then her expression changed, ‘Oh no, she ain’t ‘ere is she?’

Disconcerted I answered,

‘Yes that little girl who won’t come out of that foul room.’

‘What?’ She responded with surprise.  ‘Oh Lord miss, that must be Annie.  She is your sister’s girl.  I never knew she was ‘ere. Roland said that she ‘ad gone away to school’

Astounded at this information my knees buckled and I sat down weakly by her side.

‘My sister’s child!  That half-starved girl upstairs is my niece?

Rosie looked distracted.

‘He said she’d gone.  Gone for to be learned.’

She stood up and slowly walked to the staircase, placing her hands in the small of her back as if in pain and begun calling up the stairs.  Hearing nothing, she began to climb the stairs but slowed down after the first few steps, leaning over the banister to catch her breath.  She began to call again.

‘Annie, come down.  It’s me. Rosie!’

It was obvious that she found it too difficult to climb the stairs, so I offered my arm in support. The two of us then began to slowly ascend the staircases until we reached the attic landing.  I pointed out the door where I had left the child, warning Rosie about the terrible atmosphere in the room.

She tried to open the door, but something was caught behind it.  Finally, Rosie used her shoulder to force it open to reveal the little girl tightly curled up asleep.  She was wedged behind the door, wrapped in the cloak that I dropped when I left the room.  The noise awoke her but she didn’t move but continued to lay there staring at us.  The big eyes registered nothing, but the thin fingers idly picked at raw weeping scabs that covered her arms and legs. 

Nothing could make me enter that room as the smell made me nauseous, but Rosie, who also gasped at the stench, picked up the child.  This time the girl allowed herself to be carried unresistingly out of the room, whilst Rosie gently asked,

‘Annie, my love, what you doing ‘ere?’ 

Through the gloom, I could see layers of dead flies glued to the window ledge and squashed in a bloody mass against the filth smeared windows.   I looked around the room in disgust.  There were lumps of green, mouldy bread littered about. On the floor was some maggot ridden meat and a large cracked jug was lying on the floor stuck in the congealed mess that had once been milk.  There were cobwebs and spiders dangling in every corner.

 Still holding the handkerchief over my nose and mouth, I held the door open to allow Rosie to edge past and as I did so, I brushed against the wall.  Immediately I realised the cause of the smell.  The whole of one wall was smeared with excrement.  Some hard and encrusted, embedded into the paper and some still greasy and wet.  I felt the gorge rise in my throat and I had to run from the room to stop myself from being sick, the nausea overwhelming me, slamming the door as I did so.  Rosie, stood on the landing still holding on to the child and wailed,

‘I never knowed she were ‘ere.  She must have stayed up ‘ere. I never come up the top of the ‘ouse cos I can’t walk up them stairs now.  It’s too ‘ard.’

‘When was it that you last saw her?’

‘I dunno.  ‘E said that she was going to go away to a school, I fought she’d gone and it was the best fing for ‘er. I could see ‘e weren’t looking after ‘er.’

‘So she must have been there for some time. How could Roland have been so cruel as to neglect his own child?’

‘It ain’t ‘is fault.  ‘E is ill.’

‘So you keep saying.  That is no excuse.  The house is a ruin, his child half starved.  Yet it is not his fault.  Surely his brother must have known what was happening here?’

Rosie sat dispiritedly on the nearest step, still clutching Annie.

 ‘The Major don’t know. We ain’t seen ‘im.  I ‘spect  ‘e is with ‘is regiment and not even in the country.’  Then addressing the child who was still looking blankly at her she cooed gently,

‘You’ll be alright now Annie.’

As she did so, the strange, high-pitched, voice suddenly broke the silence,

‘We don’t talk to no peoples do we.  We stay ‘ere.  You keep quiet you bitch.  Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you,’ and she began to nod her head up and down and rock to and fro.

Shocked at what I was hearing I gasped,

‘Is there something wrong with her?  Is there something not right in her mind? Has she been shut away because Roland is ashamed of her?’

Rosie looked angrily at me.

‘No she ain’t no lunatic.  Don’t you dare say such fings?  She weren’t like this afore. She used to be so lovely, smiling all the time, but Roland never wanted …’ she stopped in her tracks.

‘Roland never wanted what?’

‘Oh Lord,  ‘e hasn’t been the same, since yer sister went.  ‘E blamed the child, but ‘e wouldn’t’ave ‘urt ‘er.    I don’t know what’s ‘appened.’ 

Stunned, I watched as she carried the child downstairs gasping and wheezing with the effort as I followed my mind in turmoil.

‘Is there any food in the house?’

‘No, I ain’t brung any.’

This was the final straw and I became so angry that I stormed off in the direction of the study.    Rosie struggled behind me nervous and agitated.

‘What are you going to do miss?’ Rosie called out nearly dropping the quiescent child.

‘I am going to demand that something is done. This cannot continue.  Look at the start of the child.  Surely her name is not Annie.’ I raged.

Rosie looked stricken, and leaning against the wall for breath said,

 ‘It is Annabelle, but don’t wake ‘im miss.  ‘E gets angry if he wakes afore ‘is time. It’s the medicine.   I stays ‘ere until ‘e wakes. I am the only one who can deal with ‘im miss.  Let me speak to ‘im.  I’ll go to the village and get some food if you’ve got any money. Don’t disturb ‘im please…’  

She seemed so anguished that my courage failed and I paused at the door and turning I took the child from her arms and made my way back to the room I had slept in.  I placed her on my bed and wrapped her in the coverlet and searched in my bag for some money.  Then I sent Rosie down to the village to fetch some provisions.  The child just lay looking at me with her little, pinched white face, her cheekbones so sharp and pointed with malnourishment that I could not stop the tears.  Whether I was crying for Freya’s child or myself, I didn't know.


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