The White Governess of Hudson Manor – Hazel Linwood

The sound of distant muskets and carbines filled Edmund’s ears to the point of deafness. Profound resonances of human suffering surrounded him everywhere he turned. He looked to his left. Exhausted bodies of his fellow soldiers were lying scattered about the field. They were unable to move. Their faces revealing pain. His own body was equally fatigued, devoid of strength. The Duke of Wellington had given his party instructions for the reverse slope, a strategy he had employed many times before. In this manner, he could conceal his numbers from the French. It was still early in the morning. Edmund checked his pocket watch. It showed half past two. He couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard he closed his eyes. The sounds were still deafening. He had no idea if he had fallen asleep at some point, or if he simply disappeared from this world for the next several hours.

He felt like he had left his earthly body to gather the strength for what was to follow. A furious attack commenced at about ten o’clock. Heavy British artillery fire commenced immediately, and Edmund felt like he had felt every other time before. Strangely exalted. Frightened to his very bones. Proud to serve his country. He, along with his fellow soldiers had done their best to defend the house and the hollow way running north from it. But, suddenly, the French light infantry had shelled the house to set it on fire. “Everyone, get out!” Edmund heard someone shout loudly, and they all scurried outside. Their heads were bent down, shoulders slumped, clutching at their muskets and carbines as if their dear lives depended on them.

And depend on them they did. At that moment, Edmund could see a few enemy men approaching them rapidly. Their carbines aimed directly, ready to shoot. It all happened in the blink of an eye. The grande batterie of the French army gathered all around them, opening fire. The bombardment had begun. They had all been expecting it, and yet, they were hoping they still had more time to respite, more time to prepare, more time to live. “Watch out for the projectiles!” Edmund shouted at his friends, but it was too late. “I’m hit!” “Move, move, move!” “Duck and cover!” The sound of hurrying motion and mind-numbing pain filled Edmund’s field of hearing. He had no idea where to look first.

A stray projectile was heading straight towards them, and Edmund knew there was no time to spare. If they were lucky, it would just bury itself in the soft soil around them, if only they managed to disperse in time. Most of them were headed in the right direction, and Edmund endeavored to get everyone to safety. But then, he noticed that one of the soldiers, a young man, a boy almost, obviously disoriented from the shock, headed in the opposite direction. “Hey! You’re headed in the wrong direction!” Edmund tried to call out to him, but his voice didn’t reach him. It sounded like whisper. He had to go after him. Without thinking, he rushed after the young man. At that moment, the stray projectile which they were all running from dug itself into the ground, but another headed straight towards the young man. “Watch out!” Edmund bellowed, but he could barely hear himself.

Once close enough, he gathered all his strength and lunged at the boy, pushing him out of the way. The projectile hit the ground right by Edmund’s side, and the explosion scattered the chards all around. Edmund could feel the prick of a million tiny little needles, digging into his flesh, and a searing pain that left his right arm motionless. He fell to the ground, his body spent. His hand was now resting in a pool of warm liquid, which he believed was blood, but he had no strength to open his eyes and take a look. Even his eyelids felt as heavy. His body wasn’t his any longer. It had become weightless, under the pressure of so much pain, his mind simply could not take it. When he finally opened his eyes again, he couldn’t see his comrades anymore. He opened his eyes to obscurity.

He could only see the tops of the highest trees, as he stared into the sky swallowed by darkness. Suddenly, a faint light appeared in the distance, as if a star had unexpectedly woken up. It looked like it was approaching him, falling from the sky downward to Earth. He tried to adjust his vision, but it was hard. All he could see was a flicker of light, which shone brighter and brighter. When it got too close, he had to shut his eyes again. But the darkness was overwhelming. He missed the light. His eyes opened up once more, and now, he could see the light did not emanate from a star. The star had somehow transformed into a beautiful angelic vision of a young woman all in white.

Her white hair floated around her gentle face. Her paleness was akin to the Moon. But it was her eyes he was most mesmerized with. They were the lightest shade of blue, with thin streaks of purple that ran through them. She gazed at him, her lips smiling, her hands beckoning at him. “Wake up, Edmund…” she whispered in a voice as melodious as the softest waterfalls hidden in the deepest woods. “Who are you?” he beckoned, but as soon as he gathered the strength and courage to speak, the angelic vision disappeared, and Edmund once again realized that he was lying in his bed, at home, his pain still his own, his body still as maimed as it ever was. A CHA PTE R 1 loud, angry clap of thunder broke the sky in two. A young woman, hidden only by the cloak of darkness, was running through the woods as if her dear life depended on the speed of her own two feet. Thick shrubbery and low hanging branches grabbed at her, leaving reddened claw marks on her porcelain white skin.

The thin shreds of her dress, her now only possession in the world, fluttered around her feet like an emblem of lost hope. “Rosalie!” An angry voice roared, endeavoring to outvoice the thunder. “You can’t run from me!” The young woman sobbed; a moan stifled in her throat. She kept pushing the branches out of her way, but they retaliated. They kept clawing at her ash blonde hair, trying to pull it out of its roots. But the woman kept drudging on, through mud and wet leaves. The first droplets of rain fell on her forehead. They were as cold as icicles. But she kept on, shaking and shivering, her light dress providing barely any warmth and no comfort. Her shoes had gotten soiled, and the soles had opened up, allowing water and muck inside.

She was freezing. “Rosalie!” She could still hear him calling out to her, a little less loudly this time, but she knew she needed to keep going. He could catch up with her at any moment, and then, it would all be over. Her life would no longer be her own. Here, in the woods, she was lost, but every path she took, would take her to freedom. To return would lead back to slavery, back to the only life she had ever known; a life she never wanted to return to. She coughed heavily, feeling a roaring fire somewhere inside her chest. Her shoulders ached. Her hands stung from all the scratches. Her legs were barely keeping up with the tempo her mind had set for her.

“ You must keep going,” she kept telling herself, as if she would forget a moment later. Shattered and worn out, she dropped to her knees. The hard rocks gave pressure on her soft skin, as her palms rested against the wet dirt. The rain had intensified. The wind had started to blow violently, as if threatening to tear the thin fabric of her dress to pieces. The woman coughed again. Her chest hurt. Her head was an amalgamation of a million little explosions, which kept taking place one after the other, relentlessly, not giving her a single painless moment of existence. “Rosalie!” Her name echoed throughout the woods once more, fuming. “Where are you, you white Devil woman?” She knew she couldn’t let him find her.

Barely able to get back up, she somehow managed to walk, one foot in front of the other. The wind blew right through her, chilling her to the very bones. Thunder roared somewhere in the distance. Lightning tore through the sky like a knife. She had no idea where he was. She dared not turn around. Every time he called out to her, he seemed farther away, but she knew the woods were treacherous. The trees would soak up the sound. They would make it seem like he was far, far away from her. But he wasn’t.

Not really. He was right behind her. She was sure of that. If she turned around, all he needed to do was reach out to her and grab her. She would have no strength left in her to fight, no strength left to live. Still going, she tried to bring back the barely living image of her mother and father. She had been so little she barely remembered them. Then, she remembered the orphanage, which they had taken her from. But her mind refused to collaborate. It refused to offer any soothing thoughts.

All she could think about was that she was alone, in the woods, left to her own fate. The woods had gotten darker, the storm louder. Colder. More menacing. She knew that if she stayed out in the open, she would succumb to the elements. She remembered the fire inside her chest. The cough. She needed to warm herself up. She needed to get out of these wet clothes. She needed to hide somewhere.

She needed to sleep for a small eternity, until her body was ready to fight once more. However, there was nowhere to hide. The woods were not her friend. The sky above her was oblivious to her pleas for help. The ground beneath her feet was deaf to the pain of her body. Tears started streaming down her cheeks, merging with the rain that had soaked her face. The pain was too much to bear. If this is what it feels like to die, I shall die today. Her mind was empty, focused on the harsh elements around her, on the miniature possibility of her surviving, against the odds. She dropped to the ground again, her knees trembling.

“Rosa….lieeeeee…” The wind carried her name through the drizzly branches and huddling bushes, all the way to her. “Come…. to meeeeeeee…” He sounded far away, like he was on the other end of the world. But she knew that as long as he lived, he would always be a threat to her. He would always be just one step behind her, breathing down her neck. He would be ready to dig his teeth into her, like the prey that she was to him. She shuddered. Ahead was a small brook. She dipped her hands into it, then wiped her lips and face with the tips of her fingers.

The water was freezing. She wanted to drink from it, to extinguish the fire that was now scorching her insides, but she dared not. She might extinguish, at the same time, the little strength she had left. She waded through the small brook, her feet quivering with every step into that coldness which burned almost as much as the fire inside her chest. Every step was more difficult than the previous one. “Rosa…” She could hear only half of her name now. Perhaps, he had gone in the opposite direction. Perhaps, he was walking away from her, not even knowing it. The thought made her smile. The woods had kept her safe.

The rain had hidden her footprints, washed them completely from sight. The bloodied branches which scratched and poked at her were not visible in the darkness. The woods had kept her secret. It had kept her safe. But, at what price? With those thoughts in mind, Rosalie dropped to the ground, motionless, her body no longer governed by her senses. She had become oblivious to the fact that a few miles down an invisible, forest path, a man trudged heavily, in search of her. His teeth bared, he spat at everything in his way, vowing to find her and take vengeance. “Bloody Hell!” Broderick Loveless, a man whose countenance perfectly mirrored his name, hissed at the weather. He looked around himself, painfully aware of the fact that he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. He had lost his prey, which was even weaker than he was at the moment.

She is worn out and cold. There ain’t no chance she be runnin’ nowhere. That bitch is hidin’ somewhere, aye. I just need to find ‘er. Then, I’ll make ‘er pay. His mind susurrated at the world, venomously. “Rosalie!” he shouted once more, as the wind raged on, his words dispersed around him. “Where are ya, ya white snake?” He doubted she could hear him unless she was close by. But it was impossible to spot her in this pitch darkness. She probably muddied herself on purpose, to hide that pale skin and white hair.

She was cleverer than he had thought her to be. He looked behind him. He could barely recognize the path on which he had walked. He dreaded continuing along the path into the woods and losing his way. His carriage waited by the roadside. It was at least dry in there. The rest of his wonders were waiting. But, not for him. They were waiting for her to come back. He’d show them.

He’d show them all. That was how she’d run away. She always rode with him, in his carriage. He had fallen asleep somehow. This damned weather and the rocking of the carriage made him drowsy. She was singing. She was singin’ aiight, he thought to himself. She was singin’ me to sleep, the bitch. When the carriage slowed down, she unlatched the door and jumped out. The memory of what had happened made him livid.

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