Annabelle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Annabelle finds work as a maid for the Duke and Duchess of Middlebrook. She keeps her head down and goes about her business. But the Duke is an intelligent man and notices Annabelle’s potential. However, his relationship with Annabelle causes tension with the Duchess. Are the Duke’s feeling pure, or is there an underlying passion for the young Annabelle?

A shadow of a young girl was painted along the road which led out of the village. Wanting to look her best, Annabelle avoided the puddles and dirt which blighted the surface of the road. She followed the long avenue of cedars that led to the distant but imposing Middlebrook Court. The tall spires and strong walls had played host to many ghoulish tales during her upbringing. Growing doubt seeped into Annabelle’s legs causing her to slow her pace. But knowing she had no choice she forced her legs to keeping walking.

Annabelle arrived at the estate’s administration lodge just as the church bell tolled nine.  She stood outside the large ornate door. After a silent prayer, she bit her lip and knocked on the door.

“Enter.”

Annabelle opened the door and stepped into the reception where an elderly man sat behind a heavy oak desk. The air felt cold and quickly unnerved her. But it was the old man’s spectacled eyes that unsettled her most. Sat under white busy eyebrows they stared at her from head to toe. Wanting to break the silence, she quivered a quiet, “Good Morning.”

 “State your business.”

 “My name is Annabelle Fordinnier. I am…”

“I am Benoit, the butler of the house.” The elderly man then nodded. “And you must be Jayne’s daughter. I have been waiting for you. I began to fear you had a change of heart.”

“I had not.”

“Then why are you late?”

Annabelle pinched her lips while she felt confused. “I did not think that I was… I was told nine.”

“I do not tolerate tardiness, Annabelle. It riles me like a mosquito in the night. If I say nine, I want you here eight thirty… I will give you this warning only once.”

“It was more of a misunderstanding than tardiness, Benoit.” Annabelle felt her heart plummet. “I can assure you that I am a good worker who keeps a clean house. Since I have a sick father and my mother just passed. I am responsible for the upkeep of the house.” She then smiled, “My mother always spoke highly of you, Benoit.”

“As I speak highly of Jayne. Your mother was a fine cook. But, unlike her daughter… she was never tardy… It’s a shame you did not take after your mother.”

Annabelle stood with her back straight like a soldier on parade.“I will not be late again, Benoit.”

“As I said. I only give people one warning. The second mistake gets you thrown out with the pig swill.”

“I promise to heed your warning, Benoit.”

Benoit suddenly took a less stern tone. “If you don’t mind me asking, How… how is your father?”

“His leg is totally lame.. he is left making baskets to earn a meager living..”

“I will make a note of buying one this week.” Benoit slammed his ledger shut. “Now back to business. I am more than happy to give you a chance… more so because of your mother, than what I have seen before me today.”

“Thank you, Benoit.”

“You will work under my close guidance.”

“I will follow you like shadow.”

“Learn quickly without too many mistakes. Then you have a job for life.” Benoit shook his boney finger towards Annabelle. “But I want no further lateness from you and no excuses, young lady.”

“I won’t let you down.”

Benoit rose from his wooden chair. “Now come, I will show you your quarters and introduce you to the staff.”

~

The Duchess stormed along the long mahogany paneled corridor.  Fine china and expensive art sat on sideboards or within show cabinets that lined the walls. On reaching the Duke’s study, Daniela entered without knocking.  Her false smile thinly veiled her frustration. “Come for a walk, Charles. The weather is delightful this afternoon.”

“I do not wish to be disturbed, Daniela.”

“But you have been working on these plans all week. When will you have time for me?”

“My chief engineer needs my decision on his drafts by Monday. Time is of the essence.”

The fact Charles hadn’t bothered turning to face her angered Daniela. “I am your wife. You are married to me, not your precious engineer.”

“It’s men of his kind who are changing this world.”

“I feel as though I am extinct.”

Charles turned on his pivoting chair to face Daniela. “My love, you must understand. My family have owned and taxed these lands for hundreds of years. But I have found that there is even more wealth to be had from under the ground. But without my engineer’s steam engine… the coal will remain underground.”

“I know, you collieries are successful, you tell me every day. But don’t you employ managers to take care of business? ”

“Yes they have done well. But now we have extracted all what we can. Next we must dig deeper to exploit the rest of the coal seam.”

Daniela frowned while shrugging her shoulder like impudent child. “Then buy them more shovels.”

“It’s not a matter of shovels. Most of the coal sits below what we call the water table. We need efficient steam engines to run powerful pumps to extract the water from over hundred feet deep. That is far from an easy feat.”

Daniela huffed as she folded her arms across her chest. “Charles… When did you become such a bore?”

“You won’t think I’m such a bore when I’m not just the richest man in the county… but rather the richest man in the entire land. My wealth will match your beauty… and you won’t be able to resist me.”

“Your words may intend to flatter, but they make me sound like a money hunting jezebel.”

Charles, as if he knew his words had been misplaced, finally rose from his chair. “I’m just tickling your ribs. I’m sorry.”

“I fear that is how your eyes truly see me. A woman with no morals who falls on her back every time she receives a fine gift.”

“That’s not true, Danielle. I apologise for my cruel words. Although in truth, envisaging you as a woman of such ways... well, it makes one tingle below the belt.”

Daniela scorned, “Your libertine tendencies disgust me.”

“I mean not too, but you do stir such emotions.”

“Well how about you give me my walk, then later...” Daniela pouted seductively. “I’ll give you more than just a mere tingle.”

“As tempting and provocative as you are… I’m afraid you have to ask Benoit to accompany you.”

“I am not walking with the butler. I see the old wretch more than I see you.”

“These pumps will not be designed themselves.” Charles turned back to his plans. “Plus Benoit could do with a walk. I employed a slim butler… and now I have one which resembles one of those fancy hot air balloons.”

“Charles! I’m lonely… Don’t you get it? A wife needs to be loved.”

“I do love you. I tell you every day.”

“You love nothing but your precious engineer.”

“You love this house, this estate and your clothes.” Charles slammed his hands on his desk. “How do you think it was paid for?” He stood, then turned to face Daniela. “How?”

“But I’m desperate. So desperate that I talk to the bloody dog… What’s worse I would swear that it understands me more than you do.”

“Nonsense.”

“It’s true.”

Charles could see the tears welling from Daniela’s tear ducts.  He reached to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry. I work hard not just for me and you, but for our children.”

“We haven’t got any children.”

“We will in the near future.”

“We’ve been trying for years… I’m failing in my one duty as a wife. Is that why you have lost interest in me?”

“I love only you.”  Charles took his wife’s hand and led her to the huge portrait of a younger Daniela. “Now, can you find that smile. The one there.” He pointed at the watercolor. “The one which I fell in love with all those years ago. You see… it captured my heart and made me want to go to the grave, one day, knowing that we had fulfilled each other.”

“Do not try to manipulate me.”

“I’m not. I do love you. With all my heart.”

Daniela broke from Charles’s arms. “Charles, if you did. Then I wouldn’t have to come and beg you to spend time with me. What’s more, I am more than patient with you.  I have been waiting patiently for days, weeks… a lifetime” She then burst into tears. “Just for you to be with me.”

“Daniela! You’re now acting like a temperamental child. Put your emotions in check.”

“I despise the selfish man you are.”

“I am carrying out my duties as a husband.”

Daniela stamped her foot into the ground. “Not as a husband, you’re not… But don’t worry, Charles. I will no longer pester you as I will walk on my own… as always.”

“I told you… Benoit can accompany you.”

Daniela opened the door. “Charles...” She glanced over her shoulder and glared at her husband. “Fuck you… and fuck the butler.”

Annabelle pulled a sack of bedding along the polished floorboards of the corridor. A door opened half way down and out stormed a tearful Daniela. Trained not to make eye contact with Duchess, Annabelle immediately glanced down at her own shoes.  

Screaming at the top of her lungs, Daniela swiped the vases from the top of the sideboard, sending them smashing on the floorboards. Not content with the damage, she gripped her fingers over the back of the sideboard and toppled it over. Shaking her head she then left the carnage and barged passed Annabelle. “Move out of the way, stupid child.”

“Sorry, my Duchess.”  .  Annabelle jumped as the Duchess slammed the bedroom door. Knowing that she could not leave the mess as it was, Annabelle knelt beside the sideboard and began tidying its shattered contents into an empty pillow case.

With the broken China cleared, Annabelle heaved as she uprighted the sideboard. But to her frustration its cupboards shed their contents of books onto the floor.

 Once the sideboard was standing, Annabelle dropped to her knees and began to tidy the books away. However the sight of books lit a flame of curiosity and she couldn’t resist opening one. Her eyes widened as she began to read the first page.  Lost in her imagination she didn’t notice that she was being watched.

“You, girl.”

Annabelle fell into a panic as she snapped the book shut. “Yes, my Lord.”

“What is that in your hand?”

“I was restocking the cabinet after the duchess… accidently tipped it over.”

“My eyes did not deceive me.” Charles shook his head while he continued to speak, “You were reading from the book.”

“But I only read a few words.”

“Poppycock! I have been stood in this doorway for over five minutes.” Charles’s lips cracked a smile. “You were engrossed in the text... weren’t you?”

“I... I’m sorry.”

“Tell me, what burns inside you?”

“My Lord, I don’t know what you mean?”

Charles stepped up to Annabelle and took the book from her hand. “I will tell you.  It’s called curiosity. You feel the desire for knowledge.”

“I do enjoy reading.”

“That maybe. However, what I didn’t like was your dishonesty, rather than any reading you did. The fact untruths slipped from your tongue with apparent ease was quite unnerving.”

Annabelle felt close to tears as she felt her job was slipping through her fingers. “My Lord, I’m as honest as the first day of spring. Untruths have no home within me.”

“I beg to differ from what I have just witnessed.”

“I promise.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I promise I would have placed it immediately back in the sideboard.”

 “What is your name?”

“Annabelle, my Lord. Annabelle Fordinnier.”

Charles heard Daniela’s weeps from his bedroom. “I have more pressing matters at hand rather than dealing with a maid and her scallywag tongue” His lips formed a wry smile as he returned the book to Annabelle. “But we will return to this important topic soon.”

“I understand.”

“Now put this cupboard right... I want the books in alphabetical order... my books have to be such. Even these seemingly forgotten ones.”

~

Alone in the parlor, Annabelle polished cutlery while she hummed a childhood song that reminded her of her mother. The door opened and in stepped Benoit who carried a silver tray topped with  jug of lemonade and a glass. She smiled and nodded in acknowledgment.

“I am talking this to the Duke… so I’ll…” Benoit froze as shouts of an apparent argument echoed from the kitchen.”What the?” He then carefully passed the silver tray to Annabelle. “Take this to the Duke. He is sitting reading his documents on the terrace at the lake.”

“But?”

“No buts…. Place the tray on the table and ask him if he needs serving. Other than that, don’t speak unless spoken too”

“OK.”

“Right, now I must go see what the bloody hell has just happened in the kitchen.”

Slowly walking out of the southern entrance, the brightness of the low sun caused Annabelle to squint. After adjusting her eyes she consumed the majestic landscaped beauty of the ornamental gardens.

In the foreground sat a large lake complete with islands which separated the hall from its huge estate. Annabelle spotted the Duke sitting in the sun while reading a book. She carefully negotiated the steps before walking across the gravel towards the terrace.

Annabelle’s heart pounded away as she nervously stepped towards the Duke, who sat with his back to the table while reading from his hardback novel. She felt gripped by fear when she noticed the table covered by sheets of technical drawings. “My Lord. I b… believe you wanted some lemonade.”

“Leave it on the table.”

“But your drawings, my Lord.”

“Ah, yes… I was lost in a good book. ”Charles turned around. “Wait one moment while I fold them and put them in my satchel.” His eyes then set on Annabelle.  “It’s you.”

“Yes.”

“Annabelle the book thief?” Charles listened to the glasses rattle on the tray. “You acting as though you’re facing the guillotine.” After taking his drawing from the table, he gestured for Annabelle to place down the tray carefully. “No need to fear me. I didn’t think you were a thief for one second.”

“Thank you.”

“It was just nice to see someone with an interest in reading… especially a young woman like yourself.”

“It’s OK.”

Charles, then glanced at his book. “Like you, I escape in a good book.” He waited for Annabelle to reply, but noticed she just gazed at her shoes. “Have you always read?”

“I learned a little from my mother. But I largely taught myself... around the age of eight.”

“Most impressive. It must be highly challenging … take a lot of self-determination.”

“I wanted to read my mother’s bible.”

Charles rolled up his drawings. “I always start my day by reading from the new testament “He then slid the drawings into a metallic tube. “How widely do you read? Voltaire, Shakespeare… maybe the classics.”

“Very few… in-fact just the bible.”

“But you should. Those intelligent eyes need words to feed on.”

“Forgive me, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I rarely come into contact with books. I don’t have the means.”

Charles poured the lemonade into his glass.  “Is there not a library for you to visit… does your school not have books?”

“My parents didn’t have the money to send me to school… and, well, there isn’t a library in the village.”

“Well… One needs to start her collection.”

“That is a dream. But I fear that it will remain just that… a dream.”

“I have a library full of books that I have collected from all over the world. I need space to place my latest additions. One might just find its way into your hands should you play your cards right.”

“Really?” Annabelle couldn’t hide her joy. “That would be a dream, my Lord.”

“Then I will let you know when I have rearranged my collection.”

“May God bless you, my Lord.”

Charles waved Annabelle away. “Now, off with you… I’m sure you have other chores to do.”

~

The sun hadn’t yet risen as Charles heard footsteps out in corridor. He gently climbed from the bed as not to wake his wife. Quietly he tiptoed to the door then slowly opened it before stepping out into corridor. Benoit had been waiting with a sack which he promptly handed to Charles. “These are the clothes from my younger days.” He then asked while Charles began rooting through the clothes. “Can I ask one last time why you want them?”

“I am playing spy this morning.”

“On who?”

“The villagers. Can you get me there by dawn?”

Benoit felt confused. “Have they been poaching your deer again? I haven’t heard any such reports from the gamekeeper.”

“No. No they haven’t. I want to see what life is like for the common folk.”

“I would listen to your father’s advice and carry on leaving through the Southern gate… not doing so may only rise tensions.

Charles shrugged. “That’s why I’m wearing a disguise and leaving early.”

“I think you’re taking a needless risk. Life is dull but they know no better, my Lord. Stay here in your comfort.”

“How will their situation ever improve if people of means ignore them.”

Benoit warned his master. “Good intentions don’t always produce the desired effect.”

“Well I want to see for myself.

~

Hidden by an autumnal mist, Benoit stopped his cart just before the road entered the village. Dressed as a drifter Charles climbed out of the carriage and walked among the cedar trees towards the village. He shuffled with a haunch as he entered the narrow streets that were tightly packed with shambolic houses. But the further he walked the stronger the stench of the open sewer became. He felt overwhelmed and his stomach turned and flipped.

 Glancing left to right he saw nothing but desperation and sadness.  Half naked children played in the muck of the street while tramps fought dogs for the right to eat the half chewed corpse of a rat. 

Charles’s heart sank, he had seen enough.

Feeling unable to carry on, Charles turned to walk back home but was met by a group of drunks.  He avoided meeting their stares and attempted to walk past. But a hand grabbed his shoulder and prevented him from walking away. Charles met the man’s eyes, and thought them soulless. “What is it that you want?”

“You are not a familiar face. What is your business?”

“I am but walking through.”

“What is your destination?”

Charles felt his heart racing. Despite the cold morning air, he felt his skin moisten with sweat. “London.”

“Then you must be a crank. You were heading North.”

“I’ve been walking through the night and must have become disoriented. I was looking for an inn as my bones are tired and need rest.”

”You need to pay a tax to pass through these streets.”

Charles stepped back as he felt the tension rising. “I don’t wish to bother anyone.”

“We are bothered on a weekly basis by travelers like you. Robbing food, stealing belongings. You need to leave and never return.”

“That’s exactly what I intend to do. But I have nothing to give you”

The thug grabbed hold of Charles’s by the collar of his overcoat. “Let’s see what secrets your pockets behold.”

“My pockets are but bottomless pits of emptiness.”

“We’ll be the judge of that.” The thug turned to face his gang. “Let’s frisk him boys.”

A female voice broke the stillness of the morning. “Arthur… let this man go. He is but a lonely traveler.”

“Pretty Annabelle. You have seen nothing here, but a pesky traveler causing us nuisance.”

“I see a gang of thugs fuelled on ale abusing an innocent man. Now I suggest you go and tend the fields you are neglecting.”

The thug pushed Charles towards Annabelle, then fumed, “Annabelle. Why are you taking the side of this old fart?”

“Because I know what you are like. You might have a regal name, Arthur… but a name more fitting would be dung picker”

“Annabelle, a face like yours should not talk such nonsense.”

“If you don’t change your ways soon.” Wearing a frown, Annabelle barked, “I will ask the watchman to keep you in the stocks for good.”

 

Charles had not forgotten his hunch, and continued to play the part of lonesome traveler. He did his best to hide his dirt covered face with his thick woolen scarf. “I can’t thank you enough Madame, you are too kind and very courageous.”

“It angers me to see such injustice.”

“Me too. That’s why I know you have a good heart.”

 ”Do you have relatives here in Middlebrook?”

“I do not.”

Annabelle feeling curious took a fleeting glimpse of her strange companion. “You do look familiar and sound distinctive.”

“I do? You must be tired.”

“I’m fresh… I was just going to work… in fact it’s the way we are heading. Middlebrook Court.”

Charles glanced about as they had reached the outskirts of the village. Once he knew they were alone he untied his scarf.“I confess… the weary traveler drifts no more… as he is but me, Charles Middlebrook.”

“My Lord… why did you risk getting hurt?”

“I came to see for myself where people such as yourself are raised. I must admit, I have never seen such squalor and suffering. Such baboonery too.”

Annabelle placed her hand on the back of her neck. “Squalor you may call it.” She shyly glanced at Charles. “But I don’t feel that I have suffered because of living here, for the most part, I have been happy.”

“But a pig is happy in mud.”

“My Lord, I may not have been born to such standards as you… but a pig?”

“I do not mean to call you fat and of low hygiene.” Charles turned to face an angered Annabelle.  He smiled as he felt pleased that she possessed the spine to show her true feelings.  “But one who knows not what he is missing, will not know what to look for.”

“We do have aspirations... some of us. But it’s more of a case of not possessing the means to achieve them.”

“Then I will take it upon myself to put in place improvements. I will make it my duty to see that the village has a school and a library.”

Annabelle let out a little screech, then covered her mouth with embracement. “That would be a great feat… and one which would surely make God smile on you.”

“I will then make sure that every man at least has a chance to find work within one of my collieries.”

“A job keeps an idle man from committing sin. Arthur is a case in point.”

Charles pulled at his collar. “A good example if ever there was one.”

 ~

The Duke and Duchess walked down the winding path which led from the mansion to the southern gate of the estate. The blue sky was free from clouds and the stands of trees were alive with birdsong. The chatter from the grounds men could be heard on the breeze while they busied themselves cleaning the lake. With his face lit by a cheeky smile, Charles placed a hand on Daniela’s shoulder. “I am walking with you, just like you wanted.”

“You are… it hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

“Well then, you will be glad to hear what I have to say next then.”

Daniela took Charles’s hand. “What is that?”

“I promise to do this every day that I’m home. It’s good for my health as well as our marriage.”

“Thank you Charles. Spending time with you…  It puts me at ease”

Charles’s noticed that Daniela failed to smile. “But I feel there is something else that is on your mind. To me, your spirit is still subdued.”

“I’m OK, Charles. It’s just a little hot today. I should have taken up Benoit’s offer of a parasol.”

Charles nodded, then glanced towards the blue and empty sky. “Even though it may be early autumn, it is a little stuffy today.” He led them both towards the shade of the orchard. “We are a complicated lot, aren’t we?”

“What do you mean?”

“Never happy with what we have. Always wanting more.”

“I don’t follow. But feel that I have done wrong.”

Charles smiled to himself.  He squeezed Daniela’s gloved hand while he spoke. “We moan about the rain, while wishing for sun. Then when it summer, we wish for respite from the heat. We’re never satisfied.”

“Yes. Quite true.”

“So you’re not alone.” Charles picked up an apple from the ground. He buffed it on his sleeve before taking a bite. “Not alone at all. We’re noting but a load of miserable old buggers wanting more than what we already have.”

“I’m not miserable, not really… I just want you to love me. Let me be the centre of your world… like you are mine.”

“But you are.”

“Make me feel that way, then.” Daniela felt herself choke on her sadness. “Thats why I want you to walk with me. So we can talk, ask each other questions. Show interest in each other’s lives.”

“OK.”

“I… fear admitting such things, because I know you work hard, and you think that I’m a lazy lady of leisure”

“I do not.” Charles, wiped the back of his finger across Annabelle’s tear stained cheek. “What about your writing and illustrating?”

Daniela let out a sigh of frustration. “I need something to write about. But I’m lacking inspiration.”

“They always say that you should write about what you know?”

“That’s my problem. Other than being sad and lonely, what is there to write about?”

“About…”

 Daniela stopped them walking so she could stare at Charles through her desperate eyes. “I want to be successful like you. I want to have something to talk about other than… well how miserable my existence is.”

“Now please. I don’t want you to use this walk to castigate me for an hour straight.”

“I know I said I wasn’t earlier… but I’m truly miserable.”

“You have no real reason to be.” Charles threw his half eaten apple towards the stand of trees. “If you want to see true misery then go to the village… you’ll see what it is like to have nothing.”

“There are many reasons one would feel as though they have nothing.”

Charles glanced towards the Mansion as he felt himself contemplate whether he should walk back. “Maybe there is some truth. But you have a life of comfort… even if this makes you feel empty.”

“I have a question for you. And I want you to be honest with me.

“I always am.”

 “I saw you talking to the young maid yesterday morning, on the terrace. You looked excited… which obviously annoyed me. But what worried me more was that for the rest of the day your mind was elsewhere. Daniela took a deep breath to quell her anger. “I fear that you think nothing but her.”

“You’re mistaken.”

“Charles, don’t take me for a fool.”

“My mind was not caught up with thoughts of a good looking young blond.”

Daniela began walking away from Charles who began to follow. “Enough you dirty old man.”

 “It’s more to do with the fact she has given me a few good ideas.”

“A maid… ideas. What? Has she inspired you to invent an automatic dishwasher or something?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course not. She would be putting women out of work”

“Charles.” Daniela stopped once more. She turned to scowl. “I never washed a dish myself… and don’t intend to either.”

“No. I’m obviously talking about the likes of Annabelle.”

“Oh, I see the wench has a name now.”

“Yes, as we all do.” Charles grabbed Daniela’s hand. “Annabelle likes to read, which made me think about the village. Apart from employing the villagers on our land and in the collieries, I think we should start educating them too.”

“You don’t want them to start thinking for themselves. That could be rebellious..”

“Hardly.”

“They might just start getting ideas. Like what happened in France.”

While wearing a proud smile, Charles folded his arms. “I was thinking of donating part of my collection to the village library.”

Daniela scoffed. “What library?”

“That’s just it. I will have to build one first.”

“That will cost money.”

“We more than have enough.” Charles brushed Daniela’s fulsome cheek. “But then I thought, a library is not really sufficient. They need a proper school as well.”

“Great! Why don’t you just build them a bloody public bathhouse?”

“You know, what… you’re right. Thanks, Daniela.”

Daniela slapped her hands on Charles’s chest. “I wasn’t being serious.”

“Now, I just have to start planning the build.”

“OK, building a library is one thing. But how are you going to fund a bathhouse and school… why don’t you build a hospital while one is at it?”

Charles shrugged his shoulders.  “I’m just going to have to pull in a few favors. I think it best that we host a charity ball to share the burden. But it shouldn’t be a problem.”

 “A party. Finally, now you have my interest.”

~

Annabelle felt the sweat building up on her forehead as she buffed the surface of the long mahogany dining table. To her eyes, the table already looked polished. But Benoit had told that it needed doing, so she continued to buff until her reflection was as clear as a brand new mirror.  But she suddenly came to a halt.

“Annabelle.”

Annabelle turned to see Charles standing in the doorway. “Yes, my Lord.”

“Do I look a little different from the drifter you rescued in the village?”

Annabelle’s eyes observed Charles’s fine clothes. “You do indeed.”

“Annabelle. I’m sure you will be pleased with this news.”

“You have news for me?”

“Yes. Me and the Duchess will be holding a charity ball this Friday. It will aim to gain funding for the library and school that I mentioned the other day.”

“You’re keeping your word?”

“Of course!” Charles sounded annoyed that she doubted his promise. “My word is cast iron. What I saw brought great shame on me.”

“Why would it bring shame on you?”

“These people, these villages. They are the ones who bring me my wealth… yet I have abandoned them. It’s time I came good.”

“Well…” Annabelle felt emotional and wasn’t sure what to say. “I do believe you will be rewarded for your kindness.”

“Also, Annabelle, there was one other reason why I wanted to see you.”

“Yes?”

Charles smiled as he handed over a small hardback book. “I wanted to give you this.”

“What is it?”

“A book.”

“I know it’s a book.”

“It’s titled, Pamela. It is popular novel by Samuel Richardson.” The delight on Annabelle’s face caused Charles to melt inside. “It’s yours to keep.”

“Really?”

“Of course it is. And it’s a privilege for me to give you your first ever book.”

“I never thought it would be possible…” Annabelle thought that she had never felt such emotion.  “…to have my very own book.”  She suddenly felt faint and rocked on her feet.

“I chose it because the heroine reminds me a little of you…” Charles suddenly leapt to catch a fainting Annabelle.  Holding her in his arms, he gently rested her on the floor. He then called for Benoit while he rested her head on his rolled up jacket. “I wonder what the bloody hell would happen when you actually read the damn thing.”

~

The yellow and gold flames painted the small and simple room in shadows. Annabelle felt engrossed in the words of her book. So much so, that the spluttering snores of her father hadn’t effected her. But she then lifted her eyes from the page of her book as her father suddenly stirred from his sleep. “You finally woke?”

“Oh, I didn’t hear you get back?”

“I have been back an hour.”

Jacques turned his head to face his daughter who was sitting on her bed reading from her book. “Then I must get up and heat up your stew.”

“I spotted it upon my return, and ate… It’s good that you found such deep sleep. It must mean that the pain in your leg is fading.”

Jacques carefully touched his leg. “Aye, I suppose it felt a little better today.” He then gingerly stood from the fireside chair. “Still, I don’t think it’ll ever be what it once was… unfortunately.”

 “Do you need help getting up, Papa?”

“No. I just need to wet my lips.”

“You sure?” Annabelle felt a little skeptical.  “I can get it for you.”

“Yes. I have to use my legs or I’ll lose them.  “

“You’ve always been too brave for your own good”

“Funny. That’s exactly what your mother used to tell me.” Using his walking stick, Jacques, slowly walked across the room until he reached a large bucket that sat on a worktop. “So, I see you suddenly have a book that isn’t the bible.”Picking up a wooden drinking vessel, he dunked into the bucket of water. “I wish I learned to read.”

“It’s not too late.”

“It is, I can barely see the end of my nose... all those years in the darkness of the mine, you see.”

“Maybe I could read it to you.” Annabelle held the book against her chest. “If you want.”

“That’s a good idea, Annabelle.” Jacques greedily drank from the wooden cup.  “I must admit I’m tempted to feel disgruntled that you would fork out for a fancy book when not too long ago we struggled to eat.”

“Papa.”

“But I must hold my tongue… as I know you have been through the mill and deserve something special.”

“But Papa.” Annabelle jumped from the bed. “It didn’t cost a penny.”

“You didn’t steal?”

“The Duke gave me the book.”

Jacques placed his cup on the worktop and hung his head. “What does he want from you in return?”

“He asked for nothing.”

“Don’t give me that.”

“But he is a good man.” Annabelle felt shocked at her father’s reaction. “I don’t know what you mean, Papa.”

“He is a libertine. Be weary.”

“He is not, though is he? He is an industrialist. A good man who tells me of his plans for this village.”

“His foremen at the colliery are always full of promises too . But when my leg was crushed they did  bugger all.”

“Maybe I can mention you to him… I seem to have his ear.”

“All you have is his eye.” Jacques pointed his boney finger towards a distressed Annabelle.  “No. You will not say a word. You hear?” He then barked. “Not a word.”

“He sounds so genuine that I believe him.”

“That’s just it. He is like his father. He is successful in business as he is with his women.” Jacques’s hand trembled on top of his walking stick as he returned to his chair. “That is for sure.”

“But all men do? Do they not?”

“That much is true. But I fear for you, Annabelle. You are angel walking this grim earth. You need to live a life of virtue. Do not let this seedy libertine corrupt you.”

Annabelle bookmarked her page with a short piece of card. “Papa, I will be careful. I promise.”

“I have lost a wife. I do not wish to lose my beloved daughter.”

“But his words are always so kind and helpful.”

“Then the man is a wolf who is leading a lamb from its flock.”

~

Inside the grand master bedroom Daniela and Charles busied themselves getting ready for the Charity ball. Staring at her appearance in the mirror, Daniela was finally satisfied with her ball gown. She noticed Charles struggling with his cuff links. “Why don’t you ask Annabelle to fix them for you?”

“Annabelle?”

“Please. Don’t act as if you have forgotten her name.”

“No. I haven’t.” Charles nonchalantly shrugged. “I just want to know why she angers you?”

“Benoit told me she fainted in your arms today.”

“Yes. Would you believe that… over a silly book.”

Daniela barked. “No. Charles. I don’t.”

“Well it happened.”

“You were fondling her weren’t you? With your wicked hands.“

Charles stepped up to Daniela. “I wasn’t doing such a thing.”

“You’re just like your father.”

“I have always despised the man.” Charles placed a hand on each of his wife’s slender shoulders. “Now, let’s put this to bed. We have a show to put on and I wish it to be a success. Now put on your best smile. “He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against his wife’s. “I wish to forget this whole unsavory episode. I suggest you do the same. ”

~

As Daniela expected she found herself alone and forgotten about. In the grand ballroom, she wondered alone through a sea of unfamiliar faces.  She did not know where Charles was or who he was with. But she no longer cared.

Thinking about retiring for bed, Daniela finally spotted a familiar face. A face she had not seen since her schooling. “Giles… Captain Giles Bradshaw. What are you doing here?”

“Commodore Bradshaw… if you wish to call me by my full title.”

“Whatever you want to call yourself. So good to see you. I never thought...”

“I always told you we would meet again. Can we talk?”

“Yes, of course.” Daniela’s eyes greedily consumed Giles and his navy uniform. She then walked at his side as they strolled towards the patio. “I must say, Giles. You look incredibly dashing. Quite the man you always told me you would become. Bravo, Sir, bravo indeed.”

“I will get straight to the point of why I am here. I don’t give two jots about the charity… I heard through Maria Goldstein that you were not happy.”

“I am not. But…”

“I must say… It gave me hope.”

“Giles ”Daniela felt shocked by Giles’s frank admission.  “You know full well that I waited, and waited.” She felt a rising anger that surprised her. “But you chose the navy over me.”

“Then worry no more.  I have now come to take you away.”

“Giles. You’re bloody crazy. It seems that age has not tamed your sense of reckless adventure.”

Giles twisted the tip of his carefully kept moustache. “Such beauty as yours would stir reckless passions in the most placid of men.”

“Giles, you know full well that Charles is related by blood to the crown. You’re signing your death warrant… as well as mine.”

“I have it all worked out.”

Daniela crossed her arms as she prepared herself for another one of Giles’s poorly structured plans. “How so?”

“I have the best warship in the fleet with a loyal crew who owe their lives and riches to my seafaring excellence. We can outrun and outmaneuver anything the king can throw at us. ”

“How do you expect me to believe your tales?”

“My insignia, you don’t become a commodore in seven years if you’re not the best. I command respect even in highest echelons of the admiralty.”

Daniela felt like bursting into a roar of laughter. “You’re going to kidnap me?”

“For not having a better word... yes.”

“Giles. You’re completely bonkers. Seriously so.”

“You love me, you always did.”

“More than anybody.” Daniela raised a hand to her closed lips. She struggled to control a full range of emotions. “But you said no.”

“I just wasn’t ready… But I am now and I have comeback to claim my treasure.” Giles stared deeply into Daniela’s ocean blue eyes. “We will sail for the Mascarene islands and live as privateers. I’ll be king with you as my queen. We will have own little kingdom in paradise. Believe me. I’ve been there. It’s beautiful.”

“You’re as foolish now as you were back then.”

“Daniela. I will fight for you… I would even lay down my life for you. Charles doesn’t even give you his time. Look, where is he now?”

“You do things the hard way, don’t you?” Daniela stepped backwards. “Why didn’t you just say something ten years ago?”

“Because although you didn’t know it… your life was decided by others. I was just a middle class school boy with dreams of fighting on the seas.” Giles then pointed at his insignia. “But now I have respect and the self belief to know that I can do anything that I set my heart on… It’s set on you.”

“But why do you want me? I am a married woman.. there are a million better who are available..”

“But I never stopped thinking about you.”

“Go. Go. Leave me alone. You’re only breaking my heart for a second time.”

“Don’t come now and don’t say a word. But my ship is birthed at Prince’s Dock in Plymouth. She is called Goliath and will sail at noon on Saturday. Meet me there… and I will be with you for eternity. ”

~

Giles stood on the aft deck of his frigate.  Standing by his trusted lieutenant, he watched as the last stores were loaded onboard. The lieutenant glanced at his manifest one last time. “Commodore, I do believe that is the last barrel of drinking water… we are now ship shape and ready to sail.”

“We’re not ready, yet, Lieutenant.”

“Sir, the tide is high. We must make haste.”

“Steady, boy. There is a crewmember yet to board.” Giles watched the young lieutenant inspecting the manifest.  Shaking his head Giles turned and gazed over the starboard of the ship. As always the docks were alive with workers of all trades. Crates, barrels and livestock littered the dockside waiting to be loaded on to ships bound for different corners of the empire.

Giles’s eyes then widened as he spotted a taxi carriage emerging from the corner of a warehouse before  approaching his ship. He made his way from the aft deck. Promise then turned to excitement as he finally broke into a run down the ramp. He shouted as Daniela climbed out of the carriage.  “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I follow my heart… just like you did.”

~

The pale light of a winter morning barely lit the kitchen. Annabelle carefully lifted out a baking tray from the cooking range. She glanced over her shoulder and noticed Benoit’s worried face. “Benoit, what’s wrong?”

“The post arrived.”

“And?”

“There is a letter… a letter from the duchess, I recognise her elegant handwriting.”

Annabelle’s face beamed a joyful smile. “Then that must be great news. The Duke has been frightfully worried this past week.”

“So out of character… they argue, but she never flees the house. I have a bad feeling about this.”

_

Charles opened the letter as he sat down at his desk. He raised a hand to his mouth as his tear ducts began to well. A tear broke loose before running the length of his cheek. His fist suddenly smashed against his desktop. “Fuck.”  He then swiped his drawing items from the desk, sending them crashing to the floorboards. Resting his head on his folded arms he began sob. “Why, why would she do this to me?”

~

Sat in the staff quarters of the mansion Benoit sat across from Annabelle and the head footman, Geoffrey. “The Duke hasn’t left his room in three days.” He grimaced as he looked at Geoffrey. “He has never been like this.”

“He’s just sad… wouldn’t you be?”

“Of course. but I knocked twice this morning and four times yesterday… and nothing. Not a word, nor even the slightest noise.”

Annabelle quickly added, “I haven’t heard anything since yesterday.”

“What did you hear yesterday?”

“Cries and sobs.”

Geoffrey sighed. “We’ve all heard his cries.”

“I worry because…”Benoit sat with his back straight. “I checked the gun cabinet this morning. He’s taken his hunting rifle and three rounds.”

“He surely won’t.”

Geoffrey grimly muttered. “Why else would he take the gun to his bedroom?”

“Good Lord” Anbabelle put her hands to her mouth. “Maybe we should do something.”

“What? A risk getting shot?”

Benoit noted.“Geoffrey is right. The gun cabinet wasn’t the only thing the Duke raided. The drinks cabinet was emptied of its brandy and Scotch. When a man is not of sound mind, he’s not predictable.”

Annabelle stood from the table. “I’ll go. He’s less likely to feel threatened by a woman.”

~

Annabelle knocked on the door. “My Lord, It’s me, Annabelle.” She glanced down the corridor where Benoit and Geoffrey waited. Facing the door once more she knocked again. “Can you hear me?”  Pressing her head against the door she waited for a response. “I just want to know if everything is OK.” Suddenly the floorboards creaked from within before the door suddenly unlocked.

“You may enter, Annabelle.”

“Thank you, my Lord.”

Charles rubbed his tired face with his hands while walking towards his bed. “I apologise for being distant.”

“It’s OK.”

“I have opened the window with the hope the fresh air does me good.”

“Maybe one should venture out, a walk maybe?”

“Now is not the time for walks among the flowers.”Charles slowly sat on his bed. “But I will be leaving for my residence in Scotland… I do not know when I return. I need to think.”

Annabelle nodded. “I understand.”

“You, have children?”

Annabelle looked out of the window at the splendid gardens and thought it most pretty. “No my Lord.”

“A lover.”

“Not as yet.”

Charles gazed from his bed. “And why not?”

“I have never had the time.”

“Why?”

Annabelle turned her back to the window, and faced the Charles. “I was looking after my mother when she was ill, and then my father had his accident in the Colliery. There just wasn’t the time to meet the right man. There was one, but he didn’t wait and married the miller’s daughter.”

“So like me you have had your heart broken.”

“Yes, but you get over it. Life is for living… even if it’s difficult. ”

“But I already feel dead.”

Annabelle watched Charles roll back onto his bed. She noticed the rifle propped against the wall and picked it up before quietly leaving the room.

~

Jacques sat beside the open fire while he weaved his basket. A sudden knock on the door caused him loose his concentration.  “Darn.”  There was a second knock which caused him to shout for his daughter. “The door, Annabelle.”

“I’m not decent.”

Jacques turned in his chair to face the door.”One minute… I’m coming.“ He groaned as he climbed from his chair.  On reaching the door he turned the handle and opened it. He then felt surprised to see a well dressed man. “Good day, Sir.”

“The father of Annabelle?”

“And who may you be?”

Charles pumped out his chest. “The Duke of Middlebrook.” He then gestured for Jacques not to bow. “At ease… I see you carry an injury.”

“My Lord… Annabelle is indeed my daughter.” Jacques couldn’t raise his eyes. “How can I be of service?”

“This may come of shock… But out of respect, I will not proceed without first consulting you. I wish to marry your daughter.”

Jacques felt a sudden dread.“You…wish to marry Annabelle?”

“She is a woman of good heart and spirit. You have raised her well.”

“But look around, we are but simple people.”

Charles talked slowly in an attempt to translate his sincerity. “I have learnt that this does not matter.  As I have never witnessed a prettier face nor have I been touched by such warmth and selflessness.”

“I’m quite taken aback.” Jacques nearly fell as Annabelle barged pass and threw herself into the arms of Charles.  He felt powerless to stop the romance. “But it seems Annabelle has made up her mind. I can do nothing but give you both my blessing.”

~

While basking in the sun from the large bay window of the master bedroom, Annabelle could not peel her eyes from the gold wedding band.  With the ringing of wedding bells still fresh in her ears she shivered as Charles embraced her from behind. She leant her head to one side as Charles combed his fingers through her hair, brushing it behind her ear.

Annabelle felt a sense of belonging as he tied his arms around her waist.  The touch of Charles’s lips on her cheek caused Annabelle’s heart to jump within her chest.  She felt like she was living the life of one of her characters which she had read about… but feared that it may all just be a romantic dream. 

But the sensations felt real while Charles began to disrobe her. 

Annabelle covered her nakedness, blushing incessantly.  But a smiling Charles softly laughed, while coaxing her to free her arms. Tracing his hands along her face, he tasted her lips and pushed her backwards onto the bed.

Annabelle felt her innocence leaving her, but it was immediately replaced with a fulfillment and love. Energy and excitement coursed through her veins. She thought Charles body felt heavy and powerful, that this physical love went far beyond her expectations.

The burns of broken innocence gave way to the lusts of passion. Annabelle wrapped herself around Charles and never wanted to let him go. With closed eyes, she succumbed to her dreams.  Erupting into a joyous realization that she had found love in all its forms. 


Submitted: January 23, 2016

© Copyright 2020 Dominic Murphy . All rights reserved.

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