Gillian woke to the sound of squealing voices. It was definitely Christmas time, and she could tell from the immense racket emanating from down stairs, that every single one of her many grandchildren knew it too. She lifted herself upright and swung her immense frame off the bed. Grabbing onto the antique wooden picture rail to guide herself to the door. She turned the stiff brass doorknob slowly until she heard the familiar click of the internal lock, and the heavy door squealed open. By the time she got down stairs she was breathing heavily. Her daughters rushed to guide her to her favourite paisley armchair. As she sat down the chair groaned beneath her weight and she sighed, happy to be off her feet again. Immediately the begging began,
"Story Granny. Please just one, you promised!"
Looking down at the sea of imploring little faces she smiled happily.
"Oh…. alright!" She adjusted her cushions and propped herself comfortably "…which one?"
"A new story Gran, tell us a real story!" She felt behind her and shifted a cushion into place. As she shifted again the pendant around her neck caught the morning light and shone, the little stones set deep into the gold still had warmth, which in the right light, made them look brand new.
"Ah Gran!" The little ones gasped "Tell us about that!"
Gillian shook her head. "And what may I ask, is that?"
"Your family pendant!"
Gillian sighed and looked around, "Alright... but it's going to be a long one… you won’t be able to hear the whole story you know.” She looked across at her daughter Dawn and smiled, “…but, I can see your Aunty Dawn has a plan…she’s going to help me write the story down, so that when you are all bigger you can read about our marvelous family!” They all smiled up at her and settled down for a new story. Their very own story.
"Thorngate echoed with the sounds of birth as Rupert paced the lower hall. His agitated footsteps made hollow thuds, they perfectly mimicked the second hand on the large elaborate timepiece, fixed above. He stopped beneath the large clock, which dominated the entrance hall at the base of the stairs. Smithson, the family butler, stood erect and stern, nodding his support every time Rupert glanced at him. The house was filled again with shock waves of eerie blue light, followed by the roaring of angry thunder.
Dawn Edgar-Harrison was only 19 years old, it was her first birth and she was taking it quite badly. The contractions had started in the early hours of the morning. She was out in the rose arbour happily tending to the beautiful scented climbing rose, when she doubled over in agony. The contractions had grown steadily stronger with each passing moment, the labour pains running up and down her small young body for two days now, and in these final moments, she looked up and noticed that there was a thunderstorm raging. She was terrified of thunderstorms. As lightning struck again it was time for the baby to come, Dawn closed her eyes and muttered a short prayer. The nursemaid and Mrs. Dodd came around her, encouraging her to push. They tirelessly bore down with her through many unrelenting contractions until suddenly with a gush, the small infant was born.
Rupert saw movement on the upper landing and turned to see who was summoning him. It was Mrs. Dodd the cook and mid-wife. Rupert stood before Smithson who put his old hands on his Master’s shoulders, and then he rushed up the stairs, all the while muttering to himself. In the birthing room there was the sound of sobbing. Dawn lay ashen faced on the bed, Mrs. Dodd stood by the window ringing her hands. They were all drenched with sweat and Dawn was weeping quietly. As Rupert walked in he looked toward the nursemaid, who shook her head solemnly. Dawn looked up at him imploringly and he spat at her.
"Please my love..." She reached out to him, he slapped her away,
"This is your fault!" He yelled, "Get rid of it!"
"No!... please Ru..."
"Be silent! I have nothing to say to you. Nurse, dispose of this damned creature as soon as possible, do you hear me?"
The nursemaid, Rosalyn nodded with her head down turned.
"No... Please Rupert..."
The door was slammed shut leaving Dawn pale and crying in the arms of Rosalyn and the robust Mrs. Dodd.
"There, there, don’t you worry ma'am" Mrs. Dodd wiped Dawns face with a damp cloth and calmed her sobbing, "We'll fix things for you love."
Rosalyn nodded her agreement and patted Dawn's clammy hand.
Years passed slowly and once again the house was filled with the cries of a second Edgar-Harrison birth. As before, Dawn had been outside when the first contractions had started but this time the labour was over quite quickly. By the afternoon the child was born and ready for its father; and on this occasion when Rupert walked through the door he was met with smiling faces and a firm nod from Mrs. Dodd.
"Is he healthy?"
Rupert walked to where Dawn was holding her newborn infant and plucked him out of her grasp. She stretched out her hands with a terrified look on her pale face,
"Please. Rupert, give him back to me, he needs me and needs to be fed."
Rupert spun around and stated matter-of-factly,
"I will make sure that he will never need anyone in his life," He walked towards the window, drew back the curtains and inspected his child. "Once he is older he will spend his time with me." He turned abruptly and looked back at them, "I will tutor him myself, his name... Robert Rupert Edgar-Harrison" He turned to Dawn who nodded bleakly "…and he will be my heir and future owner of Thorngate" at this point the child began to holler. "Here!" He placed the screaming infant in Mrs. Dodd's arms, he turned once to look at Dawn, nodded curtly, and walked out of the room followed by the solemn Smithson.
Little Roberts’ fifth birthday party was quite an event. Thorngate's hall was immaculately made out with strings of decor hanging down from the banisters. The mansion had been scrubbed clean, which was no mean task: twenty bedrooms, two dining halls, one ballroom, one study, one library and one entrance hall. They were busy cleaning for at least a week solidly without rest. It was very important to Rupert that his beloved son have the best of everything. Rupert’s own string quartet was playing the latest pieces.
Dawn was dressed in the finest of maroon velvet gowns; her blonde hair was tied up in tresses which spilled down the nape of her neck. She wore a pendant, hand crafted for a Spanish princess or so she was told, it was filled with a cluster of unusual sparkling stones. Rupert had tenderly given it to her as an engagement present, before he had become the harsh man she now knew. Everyone who was anyone was there, including Mrs. Whittaker and her husband the General, Widow Cornwall and the Crompton family. It was a night among the stars. As the last guests arrived Rupert walked up the stairs and came down carrying Robert on his shoulders; they wore matching suits, grey jackets with smart satin waistcoats, and the sight of them resulted in a cry of pleasure from the crowd.
"Well?" Rupert placed his son on the table "…who will be the first to wish my son a happy birthday?"
Robert looked around sullenly and turned to his father,
"Who are these people Daddy?"
Rupert laughed and pulled Robert towards him in an awkward manner.
"These... dear Robbie are our friends and family... they've travelled far to wish you a happy birthday!" He gestured towards the crowd who instantly broke into applause.
Robert slapped his hands over his ears and pulled a face.
"Make them quiet!" He stamped his foot and the applause petered off, he looked around at all the heavily adorned hair and faces of the women and the curious somewhat pompous faces of the men.
"Where are my presents?..." There was silence and Rupert coughed uncomfortably
"I want my presents!... You said if I came downstairs I'd get presents!..."
Rupert tried unsuccessfully to quiet Robert but the damage was done, he made an ineffective apology and carried the screaming child to Smithson, who carried him up the stairs and to his room.
And so was Robert Rupert Edgar-Harrison's entrance into the social circle of Thorngate.
The child’s life was full of interesting events; however, he was never impressed by any of it. He cried when people came over to visit and hurt any children that came to play. No matter how vile he became or how obnoxious he was to strangers and family, Rupert clung to the hope that one day his little son would walk in his footsteps.
Joseph Branaugh made an appearance at Thorngate one day after unexpectedly arriving home from Paris. His coach was magnificent and he had a trail of servants behind him. He was responsible for running the largest bank in the country, and many of the local gentry had listed him as executor of their estates. He was a fine looking man, the envy of many, slender and elegant from every angle. He had a head full of tight black curls, which he kept oiled to perfection. His hands were smooth and fine chiseled, he had the appearance of being made of the purest marble, pleasing in every way. He had the appearance of a man years younger than his age, and his eyes had a habit of flashing mischief. Joseph’s laugh was infectious, he was in all effect: a gentleman.
He had known Rupert since they were both little boys giggling in the pews at the local parish. He was a true friend and was a large part of the lives at Thorngate. Now Rosalyn the housemaid always dreamed that Joseph Branaugh would one day whisk her off to some foreign land. So, when ever he was expected, she would spend time doing her hair and would wear her finest maid’s dress. Mrs. Dodd constantly teased her about it. The truth was that Mr. Branaugh had never married. He had never found a woman that completed him, never found a lady who could entertain him and that he himself could entertain. Any woman he ever met only cared about his bank balance and social standing.
He arrived early in the day and walked right into Rupert's music room with a loud laugh,
"Rupert old man!" He stood with arms wide open and a face grinning like the Cheshire cat, "It has been far too long old friend!"
Rupert rose from his chair and rushed forward to embrace his friend, and laughing they turned to walk out of the door. Rupert turned to a startled young music student sitting in the practice chair,
"You, Henry-James, do the Scale of C for the next ten minutes and then you can go." He walked out leaving the screeching sounds of C behind him.
The servants prepared a lovely lunch for them, roast beef cobbler with crispy roasted potatoes. Joseph supplied them with some imported wine that he had brought back with him.
"So, my dear Rupert, how has life treated you?" He took a long sip of his wine and then placed his glass on the table giving his friend his full attention.
"Well... as well as can be expected. The house is looking good; my wife is looking good..." He chuckled and took a bite of bread.
"I also want to know about your son, is he not lonely? Have you and the ‘Mrs’ thought of adding to the family?" He winked.
"I am happy with things the way they are Joseph, I have no complaints." Rupert straightened his waistcoat. "I am just thankful that my child is a son."
Joseph frowned a little and cocked his head,
"What do you mean?" He took another sip from his glass.
"The Widow Cornwall, she and her husband only had one child and it was a girl, when Widow Cornwall dies her husband’s entire estate will be in the hands of her daughter’s husband. I'll be damned if my home and wealth go into the hands of someone who is not related to me. This home will remain in the Edgar-Harrison family and have the Edgar-Harrison name, thank you very much." He broke off a piece of bread and held it in his fingers studying it for a moment.
"So... if you had a daughter, are you saying that you would not have been a happy man Rupert? Surely you would love your child no matter if it were a girl or boy?" he placed his glass squarely on the table and looked at his friend.
"Well luckily I wasn’t faced with that situation. I just hope that my son grows up to be a gentleman."
The grass was crisp underfoot; the air was still wet, with the last tendrils of cool darkness ebbing out over the grassland. Esme walked across the lawn, although she was only twelve years of age she carried herself as though she had many years behind her. She worked in the house alongside Rosalyn who had raised her. Rosalyn loved to tell the tale while sitting at night with a hot cup of broth and the warmth of the fire glowing around her. She would tell of how she had saved little Esme from the workhouse, and how she had found her as “a little mewling babe in a field” and taken her in.
Only when Esme turned ten was she allowed working in Thorngate, the idea had terrified her and she had been beside herself when she arrived for her first day of work. Thorngate was a huge mansion, so old were the grey stone walls that age had shaded them a slight green where the shadows fell, creepers grew along the walls and the constantly damp ground was a haven for mosses and plants of all types. In front of the huge wooden doorway of the main entrance was a circular rose garden, the roses were a collection of pinks and yellows, the fragrance would enter the house every time one of Rupert's music students or guests walked in.
She sighed as she reached the back door and was let in; her fingers were numb from the cold so she battled to unclasp them from the wire milk pail handle.
"It is the most beautiful day Mrs. Dodd!" She walked past the old cook and smiled a breezy smile. The old dame lashed out and smacked her up the back of the head.
"Can you believe this child Smithson?" The old Smithson shook his head in mock disgust but winked at the child behind the grumpy cook’s back.
"So that's why you were so long!... the breakfast’s been ready for a while now and all's gone cold, now the Master’ll probably send it back... 'n just because you decided to enjoy lookin’ at nothin’!"
She apologised and hurried past up the servant’s stairs to the top landing; she had a lesson with Misses and was already late.
Dawn looked up and smiled as Esme entered and curtseyed before her.
"Good morning Esme."
"Good morning Misses" Dawn nodded approval and gestured for her to sit; she straightened out her skirts and sat forward, pointing to the place in the book where Esme should start reading.
She started slowly, fumbling over the difficult words. Dawn was very patient with her. The others, including Rupert and Robert questioned why Dawn took such interest in Esme's education. She replied that she couldn’t stand to see yet another young mind go to waste, and that if she had anything to do with it Esme would at least know reading and math basics by the time she was a young lady. It was clear however, within weeks of starting her studies that Esme was extremely intelligent, and had already excelled in whatever tasks were set before her.
By the time she turned seventeen she was already competing with Robert at Math’s and Spelling… and winning. She was incredibly quiet and was often on the receiving end of his terrible abuse. Robert was a year or two younger than she was and quite lanky for his age. He was an unattractive boy, pale with dark circles under his eyes; his hair was a dusty mousy blonde. His entire attitude was one of a slithering reptile, often for the sake of his own entertainment he would destroy household items and then blame the servants.
He knew the hold he had over his father and often used it to his advantage. This was a problem for Esme because every time she did better than him, he would find some way to get her into trouble with Rupert or one of the older housemaids. Often he would trip her or pull her braids, she never once complained but bore the abuse as tolerably as if it were nothing at all.
Rupert Edgar-Harrison was a very eccentric and well-known musician, and tutored many pupils in violin and piano. He had a vast collection of violins; each had an amazing story attached to it. One violin was made from the bark of a tree, which no longer existed. One belonged to a crazed Russian tsar and still bore the scratching of his madness, and yet another was a warm red-brown colour and the legend went that it was painted with the blood of a small child. He was methodical in his care of these instruments and spent hours oiling and tuning them to perfection.
When he stepped out one morning to go visiting, Robert removed one of his father’s favourite violins - one that was presented to a famous composer by a king in distant history - dropped it on the floor and then stood on it, breaking it completely in half. He then sat by the entrance hall awaiting his father's return.
When Rupert returned from his outing he found his beloved son in a terrible state in the entrance hall.
"Father... steady yourself, I have bad news... your violin, you know the one with the blue flower detail?... It's..."
Rupert didn't even hear the end of the sentence; he was rushing to the music room.
"Who?!... did you see who did this?" His breathing was laboured as he cradled the violin in his arms.
"Yes father... but I'd rather not say..."
Rupert grabbed Robert’s collar,
"It was Esme Father, I was in here with her and she was cleaning... even though you told her not to... I mentioned it to her... and in spite she dropped this one, and stepped onto it."
"How?... I don’t understand…"
"Well when it dropped on the floor it had been hung up behind the piano Father, perhaps she tried to squeeze out from where she was standing dusting but, tripped on it..." he flinched as his father stormed past him towards the hallway.
She stepped out timidly onto the landing, from the sound of the master's voice he was angry... very angry and she had no idea why.
"Get here Esme!"
She moved slowly, knowing what awaited her at the base of the stairs.
"Can't you see how guilty she is father?" Robert whispered, he was standing directly behind his father; he had a crazed grin on his face.
"What happened to my violin, child?" Rupert edged closer to Esme.
He held out the broken instrument and she noticed how his hands shook. Her heart leapt with sadness, not at her impending misfortune, but at the destruction of the beautiful instrument, which lay crushed in her master's trembling hands. She always hid in the servant’s passages and listened to Rupert play on his beloved instruments and would rather be hurt herself than see one of these beautifully carved creations harmed.
"I'm so sorry Master; I don't know what happened to your viol…" She didn't get to finish her sentence, Rupert pulled her forward in anger and threw her to the side, and she sprawled unevenly on the carpet.
"I've told you time and again not to clean in the music room!" He was pacing up and down; she lifted her eyes slightly and watched his tailor-made black boots pass by.
"Sir?" She waited for permission to speak.
"What?" The pacing stopped.
"Sir, I would never harm one of your instruments, music is such a gift master, and I wouldn't want to destroy it!"
"Of course you would!" Robert interjected "I saw you break it!... do you lie and now dare to go against my word as well?"
She lowered her head; there was no prolonging the inevitable,
"Well then, the punishment will be a lashing, Robert you will see to that..." He ran his fingers through his thinning hair and shut his eyes for a moment "No lessons for a month... you will not have lunch today, nor supper!"
He stormed off, leaving Esme with a sinking feeling in her stomach; she looked up at Robert, whose eyes were gleaming with malice,
"Get yourself outside... but first... get the whip, so I can start with that lashing girl"
Later in her small room Esme undressed, she winced as she peeled the layers of her clothes off her body. Robert had lashed her with such anger that the soft skin on her back had welted up and areas where the cuts were deep the skin was leaking fluid. The warm flickering of the oil lamp showed the streaks of red flesh which made angry diagonal lines across her small frame, the ooze had found its way into the fabric and she whimpered softly as she removed her under garment. Rosalyn came into the room, without a word she gently wet a cloth and washed her young friend’s back. As she tucked Esme into bed she reached into her pinafore and drew out a floury bun, Esme took it from her and managed a small smile.
For Robert's sixteenth birthday he was given another gala, complete with chamber orchestra and the finest of foods. Esme had never been present at one of these evenings, and was secretly very excited about being chosen as one of the few housemaids to serve at the event. The servants had been individually trained in the art of food and beverage serving; Smithson had been in his element bossing all the house ladies around. Each of them was also fitted for new frocks, their hair was to be done for them, and it was all very appealing. As they descended the stairs with trays of eats they felt like princesses.
Robert was extremely hospitable for a change and even had a small crowd of young women around him listening to his stories and laughing politely at his teasing. He was absorbed in the ramblings of some young nubile adolescent when Esme caught his eye; she was leaning over the table rearranging the bite-sized eats on the trays. He sidled over to her and leaned in so that she was the only one who heard what he said next,
"You better watch your step Esme... wouldn't want to ruin my evening now would you?..." He smiled at her coldly, placing his clammy hand on her shoulder and she flinched, "You shouldn't have done so well in your studies this year. Esme... it has caused me some trouble with my father" She winced again.
"Please Master Robert... don't make trouble... this is your evening and I wouldn't ruin it for you..." She continued moving the eats as though nothing was the matter.
"Oh, but Esme" He tilted his head in a half crazed manner "...you will ruin my evening I can just feel it..." He picked up a cheese wedge and moved past her "...then maybe, finally you will be out of my house and out of my mind. Forever"
As he sauntered across the room he was gripped in a huge bear hug by his father, he laughed as he drew back. Over the ring of people around him, he threw a glance at Esme, his face sobered for an instant and the intensity of his glare made her blood run cold. Esme retreated to the kitchen where she helped arrange the dining trays. She was shaking slightly and before she could stop herself her body was wracked with silent sobs, she gripped the table edge and stared down at her white knuckles. Rosalyn came into the kitchen and placed her arm over her shoulders and stood by her till she was through crying.
"Is it Master Robert, Esme?" She nodded and wiped away a tear.
"He won’t leave me alone Roslyn, he threatens me with lashings and..."
"I know Esme... I know." Rosalyn drew Esme to her in a motherly embrace. After Rosalyn cleaned her friend's face they both made their way back out into the crowd. As Esme moved past Smithson, he drew her gently towards him in a fatherly fashion and fiddled with her hair tucking it into all the right places, he lifted her chin and stared directly into her eyes,
"My dear" He sighed “...in life you will cross obstacles and face big challenges” He looked at her knowingly and winked "…but you cannot, under any circumstances, let life get you down." He cleared his throat, stuck out his chin and walked towards the entrance, to help the people who were still mingling around aimlessly.
The evening went well and it was time for the speeches, Rupert stood up and addressed the crowd. He spoke of the son whom he loved, his protégé, and his friend. The speech seemed to last forever and the crowd politely laughed where there was need to laugh, and clapped where there was need to clap. For the entirety of the speech Robert’s eyes never once left Esme, they followed her every move. When she happened to glance his way he would hold her gaze, she could find no solitude from the invasion of his eyes.
When the evening was drawing to a close, Robert once again came up beside Esme; he pretended to be arranging his coat on the coat stand,
"I showed you mercy tonight Esme. I was looking forward to your next lashing..." He turned to her and stared at her, she continued looking ahead, her heart was racing with fear and her breathing was short. "You know how much I enjoy... lashing you..." he reached out and stroked her cheek "You know that don't you Esme?..."
She shrugged off his hand and moved away, quickened her step and raced to find Rosalyn. He called after her,
"I practically own you Esme... Do not dare deny me!"
Master Rupert was a strange and complex man, he was only truly happy when he had his instruments before him. He was obsessed with public opinion and didn't dare do anything out of the ordinary. He had tried to instill in his son a love for music but had failed in this; his son's idea of pleasure was to do nothing of any importance, to lounge around giving orders. Rupert had a small number of select students who came to Thorngate every week to be tutored by him so the house was continually filled with the sound of music; Rupert’s well played notes followed by the screeching scratching sounds of the violin students. Rupert had no idea of Esme's love of music; she would often sit hidden in the servant’s passages listening in rapt attention to the sounds of her master’s music. She would lie awake at night imagining herself playing as he did, and would fall asleep with a smile on her face.
One day she ventured up to Rupert and curtseyed, waiting for him to acknowledge her presence.
"What is it Esme?" He looked up, irritated at being disturbed.
"Master... May I ask you a question?" She kneeled before him and had her head down turned.
"Yes... What is it?" He placed his music scores on his lap and looked at her.
"Master, where did you learn to play such beautiful music?..." She shuffled uncomfortably.
"I was taught by a grand master of the profession, Mr. Doherty. Why do you wish to know?" He was looking directly at her now and she could feel his eyes boring into her.
"The music... that you make... is beautiful, I just want to know..."
"What?... speak up child I haven’t got all day!"
"Well... I wish to learn how to play the..."
"Violin?... Impossible, you could never learn such a sophisticated instrument, besides you're just a servant" He chuckled "and a woman at that! No. It is impossible." He lifted his scores and shuffled them in conclusion.
"…But you could teach me sir..." She was looking at him directly now and her eyes were pleading.
"The answer is no Esme... and if you take that familiar tone with me again I’ll have you out of here do you hear me?"
Esme stood and walked dejectedly back to her cleaning task, her cheeks were wet with tears. Unbeknown to Rupert, Dawn had been very good to Esme; she had taught her everything she knew. Esme had proven to be very clever and had a vastly retentive memory. She was interested in History, Art and Music, if she had come from a place of breeding and wealth she would have been able to study further. She often debated with Dawn on topical issues and won, even though Dawn had studied on her own for many years.
It was then that Joel McKinnon entered the lives of all at Thorngate. Joel was a music student of Rupert's he had been referred to Rupert by his old music teacher who was moving away, he was a musical genius and was the type who always put people at ease. He came in twice a week for his tutorage and was a breath of fresh air.
He was in his early twenties, slight but well-built and very handsome; he had dark hair, sapphire blue eyes and a smile that could brighten any moment. He lived for his music and wished to become a concert violinist, so this immediately made him Rupert's new and favourite pupil.
Now Robert was often found walking around the mansion, he never seemed to find anything in life that brought him joy. As he grew with age and confidence he let Rupert know that he did not care for the arts, so he ceased helping his father with his music students. He spent his days lounging in the shadows, continually harassing poor Rosalyn with rude remarks and innuendoes, despite their age difference. He was also somewhat obsessed with Esme and tried to exercise a control over her, based on fear. He threatened her with abuse every time she would not do as he commanded. Robert found it a challenge to get along with Joel McKinnon. His father’s obvious interest in the young man irritated him so much that he could barely stand to be in his presence.
The first day that Joel McKinnon arrived for his lesson, Esme was polishing the grand and intricately carved stairway. When she lifted her gaze she stopped dead still and stared slack-jawed at the new arrival. He was smiling and greeting Mrs. Edgar-Harrison; he bent forward and kissed Dawn's hand, which made her splutter and giggle. He glanced up and saw Esme; he stared at her for a second or two before looking back at Dawn's face. As he walked into the music room he glanced back to look at her again, but she was hiding behind the corner of the landing her face was flushed and her heart was racing.
Whenever Esme knew that Joel was coming for a lesson she would make sure that she was busy elsewhere, she had a still photographic memory of his face looking up at her from the entrance hallway. The thought of him made her pulse race, but she could not stand the thought of him meeting her face to face, what if she disgusted him, she was after all just a well educated house maid. She convinced herself that he would never want to meet her and that it was best to avoid him. Weeks passed and one day Joel arrived for an extra lesson. After it finished, he was just running out of the entrance towards his waiting buggy when Esme stepped backwards into him. They both went sprawling on the cobbled floor and as he staggered to his feet he helped the poor girl, wanting to know if she was in one piece. When he saw who it was he quickly straightened his coat and fixed his hair.
"I'm awfully sorry... didn't see you at all!... are you alright?" He was speaking too quickly, "I was running awfully fast... I've said awfully already... my, my I'd better be still now... are you alright?" He changed his stance and blew at a strand of hair that had fallen in front of his eyes.
"I am fine thank you Mr. McKinnon" She could not even bring herself to look at his face as she thought her knees would buckle.
"You know my name, dear girl, I've only seen you once... a few months ago, you were at the base of the stairs. I looked for you again but you were gone..." He was looking at her face, and at the way her hair complemented her big brown eyes. She quickly lifted her gaze and his heart skipped a beat, she was incredibly beautiful.
"I try to stay out of the way of the Master's students." She swallowed hard, it was now or never, "I've listened to you play... your music, Mr. McKinnon... it touches my heart…" She saw a smile spread across his face, "…you have a very unique style, sir."
"Why thank you... Esme is it?" They both blushed and smiled at one another,
"Yes Sir, it is." She quickly curtseyed and moved past him into the house. As she disappeared, he saw that she had been holding an egg basket and that the eggs were spilled all over the floor, the basket also was still lying there, abandoned in her haste.
As summer came to a close Esme and Mr. McKinnon had become firm friends. They would nod at each other politely when around the others; but when they had occasion to be alone - when Mr. McKinnon would give her a ride into the town - they would discuss the music he was learning, the composers, and the latest performance styles. He promised to teach her to play violin although they both knew that it would be near to impossible given their circumstances. Esme told him of how kind Dawn had been to her in teaching her, she told him of Robert’s cruelty and of Rupert’s disdain. Their friendship was an unusual one. It was also at this time that Deliah became a part of Thorngate. Deliah was a chambermaid, Rupert had heard that all the other ladies of the day had chambermaids and decided to keep up with the times. Deliah’s job was to serve Dawn in whatever area she needed. When Esme met Deliah they were almost the same age, just eighteen. Deliah was working to support her family, her father had been hurt in a mining accident and her mother was busy looking after ten children, excluding Deliah, who was the oldest. From the moment she arrived there was an instant friendly attraction between Esme and herself, they had the makings of a long lasting friendship. For Esme’s entire existence she'd always been surrounded by people who were older than her, and so it was refreshing to be in the company of someone filled with youthful vigour. Within moments Robert had noticed her, and for a change Esme did not have to suffer in silence, but could laugh openly with someone in the same situation.
Rupert’s frustration with Robert was becoming more evident with every passing day; his lack of interest in all things musical caused many fights over the ensuing weeks.
Now something very interesting occurred, Mrs. Dodd decided that it was her god-given task to whip the lazy Robert into shape; she was constantly involving herself in his daily routine. She had decided that it was up to her to finally bring in some motherly influence as she could see that Dawn was unable to involve herself in her son’s life. Rosalyn found the entire situation absolutely hysterical, and always found an opportunity to join in the harassment. The entire house was turned upside down with Robert and Mrs. Dodd constantly at each other's throats. Rupert was no longer there to fight Robert's battles, so he had to slowly develop a backbone and learn to defend himself. A fight with Mrs. Dodd could toughen-up even the strongest soul."
Gillian shifted uncomfortably, as she had spoken for a long time, too long actually, and some of the younger children had nodded off to sleep. Some of the others had gone out to the hall to play quietly with their dollies and cars.
"I've gone on too long my dears," She patted the heads of the older children around her, "I think its time for lunch now... what is for lunch, hmm?” She smiled her big warm smile and patted her bulging stomach.
"Mum, will you do one more thing for us?" Her daughter's smiled and nodded, "…will you play for us?"
Gillian smiled and sighed, nodding her head.
"Oh, alright, but I shouldn’t be doing this!" Her little grandson Peter brought her the violin case, it was an old, worn, dull and scuffed maroon leather case. But inside the violin was in immaculate condition. She looked at it lovingly and ran her finger along its surface. It was strange that no matter how ill she had become in the past few years her fingers had remained supple and slender enough to play.
"What am I going to play for you?" She looked around at the sea of faces, finally little Peter piped up,
"Play Ver... Ver… Ver-mouldy" He smiled and his chest puffed up with pride, at being able to remember such a difficult name.
"Ok, Vivaldi it is then!" And with a flourish she broke into an amazing arranged rendition of The Four Seasons. When she finished with a majestic sweep of her bow they all broke into applause.
They had their lunch out on the porch, cold meats, salad and fresh fruit were the doctor’s orders. Afterwards, Gillian walked through the passage towards her bedroom. She stopped to look at the photographs along the wall, she stared long and hard at a black and white photo of a beautiful young woman on stage, holding her violin to her chest. The girl was laughing and holding up a bouquet of roses that she had just caught. For an instant she heard the roar of the crowd and her heart skipped a beat.
"I can’t believe that that was me" She turned to her oldest daughter Dawn, who had come alongside her.
"You are still you Mum. You’re the greatest. Don't forget it."
The next morning the troops were already assembled for the story when Gill lumbered downstairs. She smiled and sat heavily in her seat.
"Hurry up Granny!" Peter was perched at her knee, his face desperate.
"Ok... here it goes"
"One morning Joel arrived for his music lesson with a gift, it was quite large and wrapped in brown paper. There was a letter attached to it sealed with blue wax. When his lesson was finished he made his way through the house; he found Deliah and asked if she knew where Esme was. Deliah’s round face flushed deep crimson and through giggles she informed him that Esme was inside the hen house. He thanked her and after planting a huge kiss on her cheek, walked briskly outside, across the courtyard through the vegetable garden and to the hen house. There he found Esme, kneeling on the ground stroking one of the old hens. He ventured up behind her and placed the package on the floor, he looked around to see if they were being observed, as he stepped forward Esme heard the sound of his tread and turned around to look at who was approaching her. She smiled up at him and lifted her hand, he reached out and took hers, helping her to her feet. He drew her hand to his lips, and was about to bestow a kiss upon it when she started to laugh.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Sir" She lifted her hand to show him - that where he was about to lay his kiss was speckled white and grey with hen’s excrement, he chuckled.
"Why thank you Esme, allow me to escort you to the water trough" They walked with arms linked, where Esme cleaned her hands. He drew out of his coat pocket, a new white handkerchief and presented it to her. She cleaned her hands and then preceded to hand it back to him. He refused it. Their eyes locked for an instant and they stood still, staring into the other’s open face. Joel moved to say something but found no words, Esme looked down and smiled.
"My dear… there is something that I have for you... would you follow me please... Madame" He escorted her over to the parcel, which lay just outside of the hen house. He asked her to follow him to the rose garden, which had become one of their favourite haunts. She followed him not quite sure of what he had in mind, she had never received a gift before. He led her along the garden path, which was completely hidden, from the manor house. They passed the beautiful grey stone water fountain, the water had once risen from an underground spring but with the passing years it had ceased to flow. When they reached the rose garden he walked her over to the intricately carved rose arbour seat which was covered completely by a climbing rose, and requested that she sit down. The pink scented blossoms hung over their heads and the garden buzzed with the hum of a thousand insects, which made their home there. When she was seated he placed the package beside her. He stood back and cleared his throat.
"My dear Esme, on our first encounter, you mentioned that music touched your soul... then at a later date, you mentioned having approached Rupert about being tutored in the art of playing violin. Well, I have not forgotten the sound… nor should I say tone in your voice and the look in your eyes whenever you mention music. So I have decided, that something should be done... open it Esme"
She opened the letter slowly, not wanting to break the wax seal, the letter was written in a beautiful script.
My very dear friend, how quickly these last few months have flown by. Your unwavering friendship and support have meant so much to me. I have decided that your love of music needs to be realised and so... I have purchased you something to help you do just this... Please accept this gift... it is yours Esme, to do with what you will.
She hesitated and tentatively opened the brown paper, inside was a leather violin case, maroon tinted and polished to a shimmer. She slowly opened the case and gasped as she lifted out a beautiful brand new violin.
"It is brand new Esme... never been played by anyone except the maker." He took it from her and tightened the strings. He then tightened the bow for her and after applying resin to the hair, placed the violin on her shoulder. She looked at him with tears in her eyes.
"It's beautiful Joel... Mr. McKinnon. Thank you, but... I cannot play." She looked into her lap and let the violin slide off her shoulder.
"Esme... there is method in my madness today, look inside the case... please." She lifted the lid and looked inside again; there was the corner of a sheet of music sticking out of one of the compartments. She pulled it out and gasped again.
"It’s music notes Mr. McKinnon!..." She turned them over and saw neatly drawn graphs.
"I've drawn the position of the arm, hands, and fingers, head... whatever I could think of to help you get started. You must promise me you will read these notes at night or when ever you can..."
"Oh, I Promise!"
"When you have read them and practiced what I've written, then we can take your music lessons a step further..."
"Really Sir...?" She impulsively threw her arms around his neck and they sat still for an eternity, Joel’s arms slowly rose and encircled her, drawing her to him in an embrace. They did not move, the only sound was their breathing and the garden alive around them. Esme withdrew suddenly, tucking her hair behind her ear,
“I apologise.” She folded the notes neatly and placed them inside her pinafore as he stood up.
"Thank you... Sir, I... never imagined that I would own..." He noticed a tear trickle down her cheek and wiped it away for her, letting his hand linger on her cool skin, she looked up at him and time stood still while she let her eyes drift across his chiseled handsome face, lingering on his kind eyes. Her heart jumped in her chest and she smiled shyly.
"I have to go Esme, I'm expected back home, they will send out a search party soon!” She laughed and placed her new treasure delicately back into its case.
"Oh and Esme... If anyone gives you any trouble about that violin, there's a note in the case that clarifies everything."
"Thank you again Mr. McKinnon."
She watched him walk back down the path and then sat back with a sigh holding her new possession to her chest.
"Would you leave me be!" Robert screamed as he ran down the stairs, the ancient Mrs. Dodd was hot on his heels waving her feather duster about in the air.
"You filthy boy!... you have worn that outfit for a number of days now and if it kills me you will change clothes and draw a bath today!" Robert hid in a small crevice behind the wall clock and let her bustle by, when she rounded a corner he ran out of the entrance and down the garden path. He slowed down as he got closer to the rose garden, a smile spread over his face,
"Esme... how good to see you... looking a little flushed today my dear…" He sauntered up to her, looking around to make sure he wasn't being followed and wouldn't be seen.
"Master Robert, please do not give me any trouble, I'm expected in the kitchen." She swallowed hard and kept walking towards the house, her eyes cast downwards.
"And what may I ask is this?..." He snatched at her violin case, and moved quickly away from Esme, tears welled in her eyes and she strained to keep her voice calm.
"It's a violin Master Robert" She kept herself steady. "I really am due back Sir, may I have the violin?..." She knew he would not return it, he would rather destroy it. Suddenly she heard a loud rasping voice and the sound of laboured breathing.
"Robert Rupert Edgar-Harrison get yourself out of the garden and changed young man!..." Robert cursed under his breath and without thinking shoved the violin into Esme's arms, he rushed off in the direction of the hen house. Moments later Mrs. Dodd came rushing by with her feather duster in the air, she stopped in front of Esme, leaning on her for support. Tendrils of sweat drenched hair fell over her forehead, her breath reeked of garlic and Esme felt light-headed in the centre of it.
"He seemed to be going to the hen house Mrs. Dodd." The harried lady thanked her, and lumbered off in pursuit of her charge.
Time passed and Esme learned the notes that Mr. McKinnon had given her off by heart. He had warned her not to practice where she could be heard or seen. She would walk every day to the old barn on the edge of the Thorngate Estate. No one had used the building for some time, and so she was assured of her privacy and safety. The only way she could hide her violin was to wear her huge cumbersome winter coat with the violin concealed within it. No one had questioned her and surprisingly Robert seemed to have forgotten about the incident. Esme soon realised that it was his state of constant inebriation that kept his memory at bay.
Joel had supplied her with some scores of music, works by Mozart, Vivaldi and others. They were all written out in his beautiful delicate script. She learned to play them all and waited patiently for a chance to show him. As does happen when people are busy, Joel and Esme had very little time together. Whenever they had a spare moment he would cock his head questioningly, and she would smile back nodding hers - just to let him know that she was practicing, he had no idea how hard.
She was quite surprised one day when after his lesson Joel approached her and handed her a slip of paper. She walked calmly to the base of the stairs, to the corner of the landing where she had first hidden from him. Once again she saw the beautiful handwriting:
Would you please meet me at the rose arbour seat.
I would very much like to hear you play.
She held the note to her fluttering chest and smiled broadly, looking around to see if anyone had seen her reading it. The house was deserted, all of the staff had gone to town with Dawn to do the winter shopping but Esme had volunteered to stay behind. She ran to the place where her violin was hidden and then ran on, to the kitchen to get her overcoat.
As she walked down the path to the rose arbour she could not stop her heart from racing. Joel stood when he saw her approaching, and a smile lit up his beautiful face.
"Esme!" He stepped forward, took a firm hold of her free hand and kissed it. She blushed and smiled shyly.
They made their way along the back path to the old barn. Joel was amazed that she had found the place. He was even more surprised when he saw how she had made the interior just perfect. The floor was cleared of debris, there was an old chair in the centre and she had fashioned a music stand out of an old plowing instrument.
"This place is simply charming Esme." He turned around taking it all in "You truly are a wonder!"
She blushed again and slowly took the violin out of the case.
"I am quite nervous. I've never played for anyone before..." She sat on the chair and placed the violin on her lap. She resin'd the bow and tightened it slowly and methodically.
"Play me your favourite piece Esme." He sat on a low crudely made chair and clasped his hands before him.
"My favourite piece does not have a name; there is nothing on the sheet music to say who composed it either." She looked at him.
"That's alright Esme, as long as it’s your favourite. Oh... and have you managed to find any other pieces to play?... that might have been lying around the house?" He cocked his head in his sweet manner.
"No, I have only the pieces that you gave me." He smiled and nodded.
She started to play, and as she did he closed his eyes and felt as though the music were lifting him up into the air. The notes were exactly as he'd imagined them to be, sweet and smooth, lilting, tragic. Tears filled his eyes and he did not bother to wipe them away. Esme finished off with a long drawn out note before placing the bow in her lap and bowing her head. There was absolute silence, only the muffled scratching of birds and mice in the rafters of the barn.
"That was, possibly, the most beautiful thing I have ever heard." He looked up at her slowly. She sighed and looked at him directly folding her hands over the violin.
"Esme... I have to confess. It was I who wrote that song."
She blinked hard and swallowed, looking confused.
"I wrote it for you, it's called Esme's Song." He sighed as another slow tear rolled off his cheek and into the folds of his silk cravat.
"You wrote that for me?" She was dumbstruck. First the violin, and now this beautiful music. She did not know what to say. He rose and walked toward her, reaching out to her. She placed the violin back in its case and took his hand. When she stood, he bowed low to her, looking up,
"My dear Esme, you are royalty to me. It is an honour to know you.”
That night as she lay in her bed, she had to pinch her side, just to stop herself from laughing out loud for joy. She was falling in love.
For the next few weeks she did not see Joel at all, he was in Italy, playing with the orchestra. She missed him terribly and was constantly listening in on the master’s conversations, hoping to find out when he would be returning to Thorngate.
One day Mrs. Edgar-Harrison had invited some ladies to a tea in the rose garden. The weather was just perfect, an assortment of birds sang in the lush trees and a myriad of insects hummed in the lazy warmth of mid-morning. Esme had volunteered to serve them their tea. She was serving the freshly baked carrot cake when she overheard the three of them talking, trying not to appear interested she stayed nearby.
"Have you heard of the scandal Mrs. Edgar-Harrison?" Mrs. Whittaker looked at Dawn, "That Crompton boy has run off with a servant girl, can you just imagine?" She fussed with her handkerchief, pushing it around in her ample lap.
"When did this happen?" Widow Cornwall enquired.
"Last week, the family is in shame... mourning more like, apparently she worked in the kitchen and has known him since they were both children but that is no excuse. There is such a thing as class and people should remain in their class... don’t you agree?" She grimaced as she took a huge mouthful of the orange coloured cake.
"Well..." Widow Cornwall moved to speak; she had pieces of cake stuck in the gaps of her front teeth "All I know is that there are standards to be upheld. Servants marry servants and Noblemen must marry women of breeding." Mrs. Whittaker took a mouthful of cake and nodded.
"That boy will never be accepted anywhere. No bank will deal with him and certainly no good minded businessmen will hire him or work for him." They all shook their heads slowly.
"He has been disinherited you know" Mrs. Whittaker smiled sadly "…and as unfortunate as it sounds; that is the choice that he made when he ran off with that girl."
After the tea party, Esme was released to go back to her chores. She had a heavy heart and all she could think of was...
She surprised herself by saying his name out loud and more than that his Christian name, what if someone had heard her? She quickly went back to work, putting Mr. Joel McKinnon out of her head.
He returned from Italy, looking tanned and healthy. It had been requested that he return in a month or so, to start a nation wide tour with the orchestra. It was what all concert violinists wanted, hoped and dreamed of. The tour would keep him abroad for nearly two years and he was incredibly excited. After his lesson he walked out onto the front lawn and took a deep breath of air, it was so good to be home.
He saw Esme walking around the back of the mansion and walked quickly to catch up with her.
"Esme!..." He stumbled towards her eagerly, "Esme, I'm back and there’s so much I wish to tell you!" He reached her and moved to take her hand playfully. She withdrew it before he could kiss it. Her saddened eyes were downcast.
"Whatever's the matter Esme?" His face looked worried. "Has Robert done anything to you? I'll kill him if he has!"
"It's not Rob, Mr. McKinnon... it's nothing, I am glad you are back." She managed a smile and then turned to walk away from him. He was disappointed by her reaction and tried to speak to her again, but she avoided him as much as possible. It was hard when he made an effort to find her whenever he was there.
The day before he was set to leave she went to the kitchen and Rosalyn handed her a note. Deliah was behind her giggling and staring with bright mischievous eyes, to see Esme's reaction, but Esme's expression was masked.
"It's for you. I can't read but Smithson says that's your name there" Rosalyn pointed at the writing on the folded note. The blue wax seal was unbroken.
"Thank you Rosalyn." She took the note and placed it inside her pinafore.
When she finished work she drew the note out and gingerly opened it, afraid to see what it contained,
My Darling Esme,
While I was away in Italy
I had a moment of realisation.
Please would you meet me?
You know where.
Tonight, please Esme,
I will wait for you.
It was already quite late, she put on her coat and walked outside, it was getting colder every day as winter was approaching. The frost crunched underfoot as she walked along the familiar path. The moonlight shone in the garden. Esme walked out into the light and looked around her, her breath made clouds of steam in front of her, her heart was racing. She heard a noise behind her and turned around,
"Hello Esme... I was beginning to think you'd never come" Joel was standing in the shadows and when he stepped out into the light she could see that he was icy cold.
"I've been waiting for you Esme... I'm nearly frozen through" He stepped towards her and she spun away, walking from him.
"We cannot and must not be seen together Mr. McKinnon, the consequences could be..."
She turned to look at him and her breath caught in her throat as he was surely, the most beautifully created being she had ever seen, he saw the look on her face and rushed forward grabbing her wrists with his hands,
"Esme, I love you! I love everything about you, you fill my thoughts by day and my dreams by night...” The pain shone from his eyes, “I love you! And I will love you for ever... I can not be apart from you!" He took a deep ragged breath "…if you would only allow it."
She pulled herself from his embrace and stepped back again.
"Mr. McKinnon... I am a just a servant who love’s you... but you are a gentleman. If we were to be together you would be shunned by everyone... I just could not be the reason for it... you would eventually regret it and blame me and…"
"I do not care Esme!..." He looked up in frustration and ran his hands through his hair, "You are the reason that I live... you are the air that I breathe, the beating of my now so suddenly vulnerable heart!..." He reached out and gently stroked her cool cheek feeling the wetness of tears, he spoke softly now, almost a whisper:
"Esme... when I play my music it is you that I think of... no one else!" She looked down and placed her hand achingly over his.
"Mr. McKinnon... Joel, I am a servant! Command me and I will serve you. Enslave me if you will, I promise I will serve you faithfully all the days of my life but I could do no more than that!..."
Joel sighed and looked about him for the words to say,
"I do not wish for you to serve me, nor do I care to command you!... Esme... I wish for you to marry me!" He knelt down on the damp floor and took her hand in his, he looked up at her and her head was reeling. "Esme... as you know, I am leaving tomorrow, my music will take me around the world. I would be so honoured to take you with me... Esme will you marry..."
Esme wrenched herself from his presence and ran blindly through the garden, her sobs threatened to choke the life from her. She could not marry the man she adored; it would not be well received. His career would be over before it began, as she had plainly overheard; men who married beneath them were not accepted with much grace…
The week after Joel left was one of the hardest weeks of Esme's young life. She hid her tears at night by pressing her face into her pillow. She hardly smiled and went about her duties silently, she was a ghost of her former self, but in her heart she knew that she had saved the man she loved from societies ruin.
It became increasingly evident that young Robert had a problem with alcohol. Mrs. Dodd was the first to notice and brought it to the attention of everyone else in the house.
"That Robert is ne’good Sir, he does ne’work, he has not furthered his studies in any field and he is a lazy... well… arse! Sir" She was red in the face and didn't care that she was talking to the master of the house; she would have spoken her mind to the King himself if His Majesty had been there.
"Mrs. Dodd!" Rupert roughly pushed back his huge desk chair and walked to the window, "Now that is enough! This is my house and I will not be spoken to in that way." Rupert was distressed. Not so much by what Mrs. Dodd had said but by the truth of it all.
"Master, when you were younger... and you misbehaved, I used t’give you a sound hidin’... thass all this boy needs... God knows he deserves it well!" She was puffing and panting.
Robert had taken the cooking spirits from the pantry and run off with them, Mrs. Dodd had chased him down to the end of the drive until her weight and age combined prevented her from catching him. He would be back later to create trouble for them all with his drunkenness.
"Master... he nearly took Miss Deliah's 'innocence' the other night," She blushed a little and looked away from Rupert, only to swing her face towards him again with anger in her eyes, "if I hadn’t heard her cries I might've been te’late to save her. I had to beat him off her with a half sack o’corn!"
Rupert shuffled his sheet music; this was not the behaviour he had expected from his eighteen year old son. Excessive drinking and now attempted rape were just intolerable.
"I will see to it Mrs. Dodd." He nodded to himself, something had to be done.
When Robert came home he was in a drunken state. From what he boasted, he had managed to gamble some gold coins out of someone less sober than he was. He had then spent every penny at the local tavern on loose women and cheap rum. Rupert confronted him at the entrance hall and told him to sit down but Robert lunged at him and gripped him in a bear hug, almost dragging Rupert to the floor.
"You know Father..." His words were so slurred that they were hardly discernible.
"I really love you but..." He staggered a bit and turned to face his father so that his mouth was right by Rupert's ear. The stench of his breath was overpowering. "One day when you die - and I hope that's soon..." He swallowed heavily, gesturing with a dirty loopy hand at the house around him. "I'm going to get rid of this dump..." He pulled back to stare his father in the face, "and then... I'm going to..."
At that point he passed out. They carried his limp dirty body upstairs where Mrs. Dodd undressed him and put him to bed. As she tucked him in she bent and looked down at him, stroking back his hair. He stirred and muttered some obscenity that only she could hear, her lined face dropped and she rose abruptly, leaving the room.
The next morning Rupert called for Robert to meet him in the drawing-room. Robert had a terrible headache and was not feeling well at all. When he walked in he threw himself onto the sofa, lounging back with his hands folded over his stomach and a smirk on his face.
"Well Father... what is it, I've got a busy day planned."
"Busy doing what Robert?" Rupert sat at his desk with his pipe in his mouth.
"Busy Father, I have some errands I have to do." He took a deep breath and looked around the room, bored already.
"What errands Robert?" Rupert was annoyed and straightened up to smooth out the front of his satin waistcoat.
"Nothing that concerns you, Father."
Sleazy Robert took a deep breath and looked his father in the eye.
"Your drinking is becoming a problem Robert. If you wish to continue as you are… I will be forced to take action!" Robert stared back at his father, unblinking, and then burst out laughing,
"What action will you be 'forced' to take Father? Tie me down? Keep me locked in my room like some depraved animal?" He wiped the tears away from the corners of his eyes.
There was silence as father and son eyed each other from across the room.
"You wouldn’t dare." A challenge.
"Yes. I would." Absolute unwavering certainty.
Robert stood up and stormed out of the room, he turned at the door.
"I am going out to run my errand, don't anger me Father. You don’t know who you are dealing with." He marched out leaving Rupert with his blood running icy cold through his veins. Robert would not return for over a week, after that they hardly saw him. It was soon after that Rupert fell ill. He was playing in his studio one morning when he doubled over and fell to the floor. Esme was the first to find him and sent Smithson for the doctor. The doctor told them that Rupert’s heart sounded weak and that he was confined to bed with little exercise. It was like a death sentence to him because he had always loved sitting in his music room, walking around the grounds and riding with his dogs.
Gillian started to cough, she leaned forward and her youngest daughter Gayle rushed forward to clap her on the back. When the fit stopped she sat back, wiping the sweat from her brow.
"Right children, that's enough for today. Granny is tired, go on, get outside and play." Gill Jr. was standing over her pale mother; the children didn’t argue but trooped out of the front door and into the garden.
"Mum, are you feeling better now?" Gill nodded at Dawn but motioned to be lifted up. Tomorrow would have to be another day of story telling, today was not a good one.
The next two months at Thorngate were uneventful. Rupert was bedridden and spent most of his days staring dejectedly out of the window. Esme kindly volunteered to be his assistant; she bathed him and fed him patiently and lovingly for many weeks without ever grumbling. Esme's heart was mending slowly, the workload kept her mind off the fact that her beloved Joel was lost to her forever.
After a month or so, Esme decided to start reading to the master. She knew of his favourite books and read them to him in her sweet lilting voice, often late into the night. Through all of this he never responded to her questions or ideas, it was as if he had given up on life.
Robert had disappeared from Thorngate and when he did show up one day, it was a day that no one would ever forget…
He walked through the open front entrance and went straight into the kitchen; he shrugged his worn dirty overcoat onto the floor and made his way up the stairs. He found his mother reading in the Library but crept quietly by so that she did not hear him. He went to his father's room and after shutting the door, found Esme asleep in the big chair next to his bed.
"Well, well..." Esme woke with a start to find his face only inches from hers, "Isn’t it curious that I find you curled up like a dog at the feet of the Master, eh?..." His breath was rank with the smell of decay, his eyes were shining feverishly.
"Wh... What are you doing here Master Robert?" She contemplated screaming but thought against it.
"I've come back to see how Thorngate is without me Ess... me..." as he said her name he moved his head slightly so that he could almost touch her lips with his own. She gagged, his breath made her stomach turn.
He reached his shaking hand back to slap her, when his hand was held from behind.
"You leave her be you fool!..." Robert turned a surprised face up and around to see his Father, standing behind him, gripping his upheld hand tightly. For although he had been confined to bed, Esme had kept him well fed and had spent hours rubbing his legs and arms to counter any muscular atrophy. He was still a strong man and could outmatch his son easily.
"Father..." Robert spread a sleazy smile across his face, and stepped back from where he was leaning over Esme. "I thought you were almost..." He grabbed his throat and laughingly made a strangling motion, "...but I see you are doing fine, and what has our little sweet Esme been doing to keep you so healthy?" Even innocent Esme understood the underlying hint and shook her head slowly.
"Esme has done nothing of the sort. She has been more of a child to me than you ever have! Where were you these last months while I was sick? You never cleaned me or fed me. You left when I needed you and perhaps it was a good thing! Go Robert! Leave my house; I will not have you in it! Go back to your whores and brothels and taverns for its there that you have made your true home! Now Go!"
Robert turned once more to sneer at Esme; before he left the room he faced them squarely,
"You will never be rid of me. I can promise you this... I will have my way." Then he stumbled from the room.
They heard him stagger unevenly down the stairs and walk out the front entrance. He ran his arm along the side board bringing china plates and precious glass ornaments crashing to the ground, and then he was gone.
Within minutes Rupert felt weak again and lay down on the bed shivering, Dawn came rushing into the room and ran to the bed,
"What was that crashing I heard? Is everything alright?" She looked really worried and was sitting next to her husband stroking his pale cheeks.
"Yes Ma'am, It was Master Robert, he came back to say a few words to the Master Rupert but he has left now"
That was the moment Esme knew that the Master loved her. A few days passed and Esme made a decision, she arrived in the early morning with a parcel under her arm, it was her violin. She sat in the armchair next to the bed and started tightening the strings and bow; she slowly lifted the violin to her chin and started to play her song from Joel. There was no movement from the bed, only she noticed the figure’s breathing increase as she moved on to the emotionally charged central theme, and then watched the breathing slow down as she slowly played out the sad and mournful end phrase. She placed the violin in her lap and sat with her head bowed and eyes closed, waiting for a response. The figure remained still. The silence seemed to stretch for an eternity. Finally the Master turned onto his side arranging the cream feather pillows so that he could look at Esme,
"Who taught you to play that piece of music, maid?" he asked gently.
"I taught myself Master, the violin was a gift from a friend, he provided me with notes and music so that I could learn."
"What is the name of that piece?"
"Master McKinnon wrote it, Sir." She wiped a tear away from her eye and placed her trembling hand in her lap.
He seemed to struggle with something for a while but a fire had sparkled to life in his tired eyes, a hunger for music,
"It was lovely Esme… tomorrow I want you to bring me my blue leather-bound book from the music room. Bring my music stand and my red violin. Do you understand?" Esme nodded and forced the smile from her face.
The following weeks were filled with flying violin arpeggios and the incessant rapping of the Masters baton on the edge of the music stand, Esme's playing improved dramatically in a short while, and the Master had something worthwhile to live for.
In the year of Esme’s twenty-first birthday, the older house-servants began acting very strangely. Mrs. Dodd and Rosalyn often stood aside and discussed something quite passionately, both disagreeing with the other. Rupert was still confined to his bed and despite his fervent violin lessons with Esme, didn’t look very well at all.
One day all of the maids, and the now very frail Smithson, were called to the kitchen. Mrs. Dodd had a stained brown handkerchief and was dabbing her eyes. Esme knew that it was not about Rupert, because she had just finished doing his room and he was fine.
"Could everyone sit down please, there is something that we need to tell you." The gathering crowd made themselves comfortable.
The door suddenly opened and their Mistress, Dawn stepped in, the maids all looked at each other in confusion, some hurriedly rose and curtseyed.
"Come in Mrs. Edgar-Harrison, Madam." They made a place for her to sit down; she also had no clue as to why they were all there.
"Now… the news that we have to tell you is very startling, we have fought for weeks now about it but with the master being sick..." Rosalyn sighed and then continued, "…and we feel that it is the right thing to do."
"Many years ago, there was a huge thunderstorm. In the afternoon Mrs. Edgar-Harrison, as you all might remember the story, went into labour. Now when the baby came into this world we called for the master and when he saw it he could see that the baby was not as he said ”right” and we were ordered to be rid of it."
It was here that Rosalyn started to cry and shook her head. "The sh…shame of ca…carrying around this secret has been a g…great burden to us Mrs. Edgar-Harrison. When the Master saw the baby he gave it to us and told us that it was up to us to dispose of it. The baby was sent away, Miss, but we didn’t give it to the orphanage like we said…we took the baby and gave it over to a miner’s family. The miner’s wife had lost a small child you see, and so we knew that the baby would get milk and love from the mother…" She stopped and looked up at the ceiling, looking down again she said quietly, "…after a few years maybe three years or so, we went back and retrieved the child. The child stayed with us in the servant’s commune with the other young ones. When the child was old enough we brought it to work with us at Thorngate" There was silence and everyone looked around for further explanation “…it…it, was such a beautiful child Mrs. Edgar-Harrison"
Dawn stood suddenly and broke her off in a maddened voice,
"Well?! Where is he… she?... tell me Rosalyn, Mrs. Dodd?... Where is my child?" She looked around madly at the sea of faces all around her, of the thirty male and female servants her child could have been any of the younger people.
There was a moment’s silence until Mrs. Dodd spoke up,
"It's Esme, Esme ma'am. She's your lost little one."
The room swam as Rosalyn’s words made gradual sense, and Esme landed with a hollow thud on the floor. All the maids rushed to help her up. She had a small cut on her eyebrow and it was bleeding. Dawn pushed them all away and pulled her lost child up into her lap, rocking her and murmuring sweet nothings, she had always wished for a child as sweet as Esme. Her pale blue taffeta dress became stained with a little of Esme's blood but she didn’t care, she had her precious daughter in her arms again and that was all that mattered.
When Esme woke she was in a strange room in a strange bed. Her forehead had a cool compress on it and she felt groggy. As she lay there the events that led to her fall flooded back, and she lay in the bed with tears streaming down her cheeks wondering if it were all a dream. From then onwards things changed for Esme. She was no longer allowed to help with the chores no matter how much she fussed, she spent her days in the rose garden or at Rupert’s side. That was the one thing she insisted upon, that she be allowed to tend to his needs. After about two weeks the decision was made to tell Rupert of Esme’s true identity, she sat in the overstuffed armchair next to the bed and smiled slightly as Dodd, Rosalyn, Deliah, Smithson and Dawn all entered and stood next to the bed like a cavalry line up.
Mrs. Dodd was the first to speak,
“Master Rupert can you hear me!” She spoke so loudly that the line of supporters wavered for a moment.
“Woman…” Rupert stirred and opened his eyes, growling underneath his breath. “I’m ill, not deaf!”
Unexpectedly then, he smiled and looked at Esme, “Ah Es’ my dear, you’re here, always here with me eh? Good girl.” Esme blushed, looked down, and clasped her hands in her lap.
“Master Rupert” She said “I have something rather startling to tell you Sir” She fidgeted a bit more and looked straight at him.
“Master, I am yours…” She coughed once and then said, “What I mean to say is…I only recently discovered that I am, in fact, your daughter. Mistress…uh, my Mother did not know either, this news was revealed to us only last week…”
Rupert slowly looked from one nodding face to the other and then back at the now smiling Esme.
“Come again girl, you say you’re what?”
“Your child sir. Your firstborn child”
Rupert’s response had been quite unexpected; instead of anger he had struggled with the bed covers and leapt up to embrace Esme, begging forgiveness from all present. Then he seemed to regain some of his energy and called for a celebration, in his illness he seemed to have forgotten the past, the wrong doings and such. He was so pleased that he finally had the child he had always dreamed of. It became alarmingly apparent how much Rupert’s mind had deteriorated.
When Rupert’s good friend Joseph Branaugh received an invitation for a ball:
“To celebrate the
Esme Nyrelle Edgar-Harrison”
He thought he was dreaming.
The evening was surreal, Esme was fitted for the most beautiful dress, the brown tones of the deep velvet and lace matched her natural colouring. With her hair adorned with silver and gold she looked breathtaking. Since Rupert had found out her true identity he had worked feverishly on her violin playing. He had tutored her in Geography, History and basic Mathematics. He seemed to have forgotten his own words to Mr. Branaugh, he was a very proud father. Even though the crowd was lively and the food was delicious, Esme was still sad, all she wanted was Joel. At the very thought of his beautiful face and smile her chest tightened and left her breathless. The memory of his arms around her made her eyes well with tears.
During the evening she was asked to dance with her father, the crowd stepped back and the music started. She had been taught all the steps by Dawn and so she moved effortlessly around the floor, at every turn her long glossy hair swung out and the crowd was in awe of her true beauty, no one even recalled her as the quiet servant girl. There was really only one flaw in the enchanting evening, the absence of Joel McKinnon.
It was some weeks later that Thorngate received an official notice from the Courthouse: Robert Rupert Edgar Harrison had been sentenced and tried to a life sentence for thievery, rape, murder, gold smuggling and lastly, running a pick pocketing ring in London. He was being shipped off to the southernmost colony of Australia for a lifetime of hard labour. Instead of mourning there was joy in Thorngate, the only ones to feel sad were Mrs. Dodd and Dawn who grieved the fact that they couldn’t have made a more marked difference in his life.
Since Rupert’s illness he seemed more unusual than ever, but instead of cruel eccentricity he had become a kind giver, he was not as strong as before and his memory was fading faster than cigar smoke, but he was a pleasure to live with. The London Courthouse delivered a box to Thorngate, one that was found to be in Robert’s possession. It had few of his belongings in it and some money that he had accumulated. When Rupert opened it he found an old red scarf, some torn money, a gold necklace and an old tattered notebook. He sat himself down in his old stuffed armchair and opened the stained pages before him. He started to read the crazed writings of his son as a teenager, of how he lusted after Esme, of how he harassed her, beat her and tried to molest her. Feeling highly unsettled he turned to the middle of the book and read on,
“Today was a good day, I broke my idiot Fathers prized violin,
The smelly ancient piece of rubbish with cracked blue flowers on it. I stood on the stupid thing and broke it as well as I could, then when father came home I told him that it was Esme who broke it. It was perfect, Father was so angry that he threw her aside and then allowed me to beat her, Well worth all the effort, I do so enjoy beating the wench. I do think she actually enjoys it…”
He sighed and placed his head in his open hands. The memory of that moment flooded back and he felt such remorse. He had not even taken the time to get to know his servants, and Esme when she had first started working for him, it would have just taken some effort on his part. She had pleaded with him and said she was innocent. If he had known the strength of her character then, he would’ve beaten Robert and not have had her beaten. He called for her to come to him.
“…Esme. I have something to say to you.” He looked at the floor and suddenly looked much older than his years. “I have only in the last hour realised a serious injustice that you suffered at the hands of your brother, and myself.” He looked up at her and handed her the book pointing at the passage he had just read. She read it through once then slowly again. Tears formed in her eyes and she looked up at Rupert,
“Father,” she stepped forward and placed her hand on the greying head. “I forgave you before you even touched me. You were misled, as much as I was mistreated.”
He sighed and reached out to her, she bent to him and they embraced.
“Esme, did he really hurt you?”
“No, not badly Father.”
That night when she undressed she turned and looked at her bare back in the mirror, the scars from the whipping that day streaked across her back like a cross-hatch design, some of the scars were welted up and others were etched deep in her skin. What Rupert didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Robert’s evil was over and bringing it back through awful memories was not the answer.
The life warming sun filtered through the stained glass windows, highlighting the dust that swirled in the breeze from the open windows into bright primary colours, Esme knelt at the pew in the small chapel on Thorngate’s property, and prayed. She prayed for the safety of her family, for the prosperity of Thorngate, and for the safe return of Mr. McKinnon. As she sat she heard a rustling behind her and turned sharply, it was only Dawn, and she came and sat beside her, linking her shawled arm through Esme’s and smiling at her.
“Are you coming up for tea?” She sniffed politely, the nippy air outside had chilled her nose.
“Yes, I will. Will anyone be joining us today?”
“No, Your Father is not feeling so well, he asked that he eat alone in his quarters.” Dawn smiled weakly and rose to leave.
“I will meet you in a little while Mother” Esme closed her eyes once more, her thoughts filled with the hope of seeing Joel return to her.
Gillian woke to the lilting melody of sweetly singing birds, the sound of children's laughter, and the warm friendly chatter of her daughters as they prepared breakfast. She breathed a relaxed and contented sigh. She managed to sit upright and pulled herself unsteadily to her feet. She shuffled over to her dressing table, sat on the old hand-carved stool and began to brush her hair. She used an antique brush, the bristles were splayed and white with age, and in the lamplight the beautiful curved writing glistened as she moved. The words on the brush were inlaid with mother of pearl in the almost black ebony wood, “Esme” even the name looked like the flow of a violin arpeggio. She smiled as she placed the brush on the dresser top. Running her fingers along the surface she saw the scratches in the wood that she had made as a girl. Chuckling to herself as she remembered being so young, and so defiant. She remembered defacing her mother’s tabletop that day, and the punishment that followed.
Her eyes wandered to the base of the mirror, she ran her finger lightly along a dark stain that ran the entire length of the mirror and over the edge.
Weeks had passed by and life carried on as usual for all at Thorngate; Mrs. Dodd bustled, Smithson - who was weeks from retirement - fumbled, Deliah gossiped and Esme played the violin. Not a day went by without the house being filled with the crisp sweet sound of Esme’s playing. Rupert was getting frailer by the hour. They waited anxiously for the day when he would breathe his last. Esme still tended to his needs and lovingly helped to dress him, feed him and read to him. One night, Rupert woke when the house was in darkness; not even the two new dogs stirred, lying curled by the coal stove in the kitchen. He sat slowly, lifting his skeletal body unsteadily and turning himself to place his cold feet on the thick carpet. He grabbed a hold of the chair that Esme usually sat in and pulled himself into it. He sat for a while recovering and then got down onto his knees, he crawled painfully to the dressing table where he had written so many letters and where Dawn had lovingly brushed her long hair before the mirror. He climbed up onto the stool and looked at himself, he hardly recognised the old man staring back at him. He tried to smile but he just sighed, hunched over at deaths door. He pulled out the top drawer and removed a piece of writing paper placing it squarely in front of him; he took his quill, dipped it into the mother of pearl inkwell and began to write a note to his family.
“It is with much sadness that I bid you all farewell.
I am not a simple man and I know that it is a great burden for you to tend to me, and take care of me as you have been doing so kindly these last months. I know that in life I have not been a kind man, but I hope that in death and in this last act, that I will be in some way, undoing the past.
Esme, I cannot believe that you have so easily forgiven me the pain that I caused you. You have been a source of inspiration to me, you have made me laugh, and you fill my cramped world with music and song. You are my firstborn child Daughter and it is to you and your future husband alone that I bequeath Thorngate and all its assets. I know that you will care for Mrs. Dodd, Smithson, Mother and the other servants in their old age. I also leave you my music collection in the hope that you will carry on where I left off. In the cabinet under my Violin collection, there is a key on a red blue velvet ribbon. Take it and go to the wine cellar under the east wing, look along the far wall to the biggest wine barrel and underneath it you will find a vault, what you find there is yours.
Dawn, you have been a good wife and you have given me your best, I only wish I could have known you better, loved you more and treated you with the respect and love that you deserve. I don’t know why you have remained by my side through all the hard times. I do not deserve a wife like you. I love you Dawn, with all my being and only wish I could have told you in person just one more time. My only excuse is that I was blind, blind to the fact that you could have been a great friend. I’m so sorry my darling. I free you, follow your heart, live out your dreams, and fulfill your greatest desires.
Forever I will know this one thing: Great people have surrounded me. Grand people. Good people. You have been MY people. I only realise this too late. Forgive me for thi
I go on to another place now. This world has made me weary. Do not cry for me, please, celebrate for I am freed from suffering and sadness, I shake off my mortality and gain immortality. I feel as if the angel of death is at the door, waiting patiently for me. I must not keep him.
With all my grateful and undying love.
Ps. Robert, although I know that you will never read this, I love you. I always have. You are my only son and I wish that I could have been a better Father to you.
He fell forward exhausted onto the writing paper, aching from holding the quill. With a shaking hand he folded the letter clumsily and placed it in the letter holder on the right hand side of the dresser. He lay with his head on the dresser-top for a while, his hooded eyes exploring the detailed carvings on the letter holder. Cherubs and rose thorns, Esme and Robert, violins and banquets. Under his breath he muttered confused thoughts and tears welled in his eyes at the futility of his predicament. After a while he heard the great wall clock chiming one, two, three, he knew that soon Mrs. Dodd would be up, preparing the fire and making the food. He knew that in a few hours Thorngate would be beginning another day, the first day without him.
The sun rose slowly, warming the front stones of Thorngate. Mist rose lazily from the front lawn, and birds sunned themselves on the cobbled driveway, opening out their delicate wings exposing the soft fluff of their underbellies. Light filtered into the lounge through the windows and warmed the carpets in squares of glowing heat. The dogs waited patiently at the kitchen door, tails wagging lazily, ears back and tongues lolling out. As Mrs. Dodd shuffled with her aging bent back into the kitchen she spoke to them, nonsense words which sent their tails spinning with pleasure at all the attention. She opened the heavy wooden door and shivered as the cool wind came in and the dogs bolted out to roll and play on the grass.
Esme came into the kitchen and lifted the tray carrying hot breakfast for Rupert. She poured a mug of brandy for him, to warm him up. As she made her way up the stairs she looked across the landing and saw Dawn sitting by herself in the library, she remembered the days when she would race up the stairs in time for her lessons. She popped her head in the doorway,
“Is everything alright?” She blew a strand of hair away from her eyes.
“Yes, I’m just thinking.” Dawn, beautiful Dawn, looked so tired, so early in the day.
“You’re fine then?” Esme smiled sweetly.
“Yes dear, I’ll be fine. Go see to your father now.” She looked back down into her lap and shut her eyes as if in prayer.
Esme walked on up the stairs to the landing where her father stayed. She hummed the melody of Esme’s Song” and balanced the tray on her hip as she wrenched open the stiff doorknob. As the door swung open she stepped into the room…the tray crashed to the ground as she tried to scream, but no sound would come out. Rupert sat at the dresser, his head lay on the wooden surface, his expression was peaceful and his dead eyes gazed unseeing out of the open doorway. In his hand was a writing pen and a pearl letter opener, he had knocked over the pot of ink and the dark stain ran along the base of the mirror and spilled over the edge onto the carpet.
The following days were filled with deep contemplation and shock. Smithson was upset the most by the death of Rupert as he had grown up with him, from young boys to manhood. Mrs. Dodd seemed to accept it as ‘the right time’ and was only seen weeping once. The funeral was held on a bright sunny day, birds sang in the tall trees that lined the cemetery near Thorngate chapel; and the air was alive with the sounds of hymns, violins and mourners. They wore black as was the custom, and the funeral procession was very grand. Most of Rupert's pupils attended the procession and a group of violinists played his favourite pieces. He would have been pleased to see so many people there. The night of the funeral Esme and Dawn sat in the parlour and held hands. They held the farewell letter and read it through again.
A month after the funeral they decided to do away with wearing black, soon after that Esme plucked up courage and went to her father’s music room where she read the letter again:
“In the cabinet under my Violin collection, there is a key on a red blue velvet ribbon. Take it and go to the wine cellar under the East wing, look along the far wall to the biggest wine barrel and underneath it you will find a vault, what you find there is yours”
She took the key and walked to the east wing, in the wine cellar she walked past huge barrels, brushing away the cobwebs that grasped her hair like desperate maidens. She stopped and stood in front of the vault, a large rusted iron door obscured by corrosion and hidden in shadows. She had no idea what to expect and so, with a shaking hand she reached out and pushed the key into the slot. She turned once and then twice and the lock jumped. Slowly, she pulled the cold metal door towards her, it squealed as it opened up its heart to her.
Inside the cellar’s vault the musty smell of cold unused air sauntered up to meet her. In the space beyond was pile after pile of money, paper cheques, gold coins, jewels, she reached in and pulled out a leather folder, bound together with a thick strap. Inside the folder were a letter and some other written articles. The letter was stamped and sealed with Rupert's wax seal. With trembling hands and teary eyes she opened it and read:
I, Rupert Edgar-Harrison, am writing this with a sound mind and in good health. The finder of this vault is the owner of the contents”
In the leather bound note book at the back end of this vault are some documents concerning the ownership of Thorngate, the details of some of my investments are also enclosed.
I am not sure of the total sum of wealth in this vault but whatever it is, it is only roughly a third of what I own, the rest is in the care of a Mr. J. Branaugh, 34 Pine lane.
In a velvet pouch under the cracked brick along the left side of the inner vault is a piece of paper, on the paper is a word and a number, take the bag to Mr. Branaugh and he will deposit the amount he is holding for me into your account. If you do not have an account he will open one for you.
I am also owner of other pieces of property aside from Thorngate; the details for those are in the folder as well.
God Speed, and use all wisely.
She reached inside and removed the pouch, she tucked it into her bodice and slowly shut the vault door, and she sighed as the weight of what she had just read sank into her mind. She had enough money to last her two lifetimes, she had had no idea that Rupert had saved and invested his money so wisely. From what she saw, she was a rich woman.
Early the next morning, when mist was still curled like sleeping cats around the tall trees of Thorngate’s long sweeping driveway, she sat at her own new writing desk and composed a letter to Mr. Branaugh. In her feathery feminine handwriting she informed him of her father’s letter, and asked if she would be able to meet with him to discuss things further. She walked across the brightly coloured red persian style carpet in the main lounge, and called Rosalyn who then ran out of the front door and down along the slippery cobblestone path to the stables, at the back of the building. There in the feeding room knee-deep in horse manure she found Squeaky, one of the stable boys. She gave him the sealed note, told him to clean up, and sent him off to town saying that he could use one of the horses from the main stable.
Squeaky ran excitedly and fell onto the hay, pulling off his soiled trousers he then ran to get a fresh pair. He wet his face and then licking his fingers he knelt over a puddle in the drive, and fixed the hair around his ears, tucking it in and smoothing it down. If he did well in this errand he might be promoted from stable boy to messenger, which meant clean clothes and adventures across the countryside.
The rest of the day Esme walked up and down the front room, stopping at every window to stare at the driveway, waiting for a sign of Squeaky and the reply. After a few hours she heard the sound of the horse approaching the house and she walked out to receive the letter herself. As she reached up to take it, Squeaky smiled his gapped tooth smile, the smell of whiskey reached her nostrils turning her stomach.
“Squeaky, will you put the horse away? And then I want you to go and see Mrs. Dodd.” As she walked away she smiled to herself, knowing what would happen to him when Mrs. Dodd smelled the whiskey on his breath. He certainly wouldn’t drink on the job again!
The letter warmly informed her that Mr. Branaugh would make an appearance at Thorngate the next day at noon.
When he arrived the next day Esme was wearing a fine blue dress, with white lace around the collar and wrists. Her hair was washed and bound up with blue and white ribbons, her skin was scented with lavender and her eyes shone. When he walked in his breath caught short, for he suddenly remembered where he had seen her before. He bowed low, concealing his knowledge.
“Miss Edgar-Harrison” He knelt and kissed her hand. Rising slowly he stepped back and sat opposite her, placing his own leather folder on the arm of the paisley, over-stuffed parlour chair. For an instant he saw Rupert in Esme’s features where he had not seen it before, the way she carried herself, the way she seemed so soft and yet so totally in control. Her eyes glowed in the same way as her father’s did and when she smiled at him he saw her for who she was, not a maid as he now recalled, but as Esme Edgar-Harrison heir to Thorngate.
The meeting went successfully, they ate cream scones and drank tea, the arrangements were made to open a banking account for Esme personally and one for Thorngate under the direction of Esme. It was understood that until Esme was married all decisions regarding Thorngate were to be made between Esme and Joseph; both signatures had to be on all documents.
As she saw him out to his carriage he lifted her bare hand to his lips and kissed it gently. He looked at her and smiled before stepping into the carriage. He still, as yet, had never married and now for the first time in years Mr. Branaugh could picture himself living out his life with the beautiful young Esme.
For the next few weeks life carried on as usual. Esme taught violin and even started to study voice training. Each week she would call for Thorngate’s coach, driven by a now very sober and dapper Squeaky, to go to Mr. Watkins’s house for vocal coaching. He taught her everything he knew and very soon she was proficient enough to start teaching voice as well as violin.
She walked out one morning, and stood with her head tilted to the side; admiring the way the sun’s rays broke through the silver clouds landing yellow and warm on the green grass, erasing the grey of the driveway. She watched how the shadows softened on the rough stone walls every time the sun vanished. As she stared out across the landscape she sighed; her sigh was carried up on an eddying wind and it flew over the rooftops and out over the grasslands until it reached the sea. It travelled out over the ocean till it landed quietly and ever so gently, embedding itself secretly, deep inside the heart of the man she adored.
She was awoken from her daydreaming when she heard the dogs barking excitedly down the drive, she walked across the front lawn and looked to see who it was that was coming.
Mr. Branaugh stepped out from his carriage and bowed before Esme.
“Madam, I was wondering if you would accompany me today.” He stood up and stared at her, she thought to herself that although he was older he was indeed not an unattractive man. She smiled coyly,
“And where might we be going?” She cocked her head in the same manner as her father had done, and waited for his reply:
“Ah… that my dear is for me to know… it is up to you to wait… and enjoy the experience…” He stood still looking for a response.
“I will go with you Mr. Branaugh,” She laughed and turned to go indoors, “but it is you who will have to wait… while I ready myself.”
She walked indoors and raising her slender right arm, called for Rosalyn to help her with her hair and dress. Mr. Branaugh smiled to himself as he was shown into the parlour to wait.
The carriage raced along the dirt road, at every corner birds scattered from the road and flew squawking up in to the morning air. Esme had a warm shawl wrapped around her and the wind whipped her cheeks into two rosy orbs. She had wisely tied a soft silk shawl around her head and so, her beautifully styled hair went untouched by the wind. After an hour or so of travelling they stopped just on the other side of town. He stepped down from his seat, and raced around to help her down from the high step. As she stepped down her hem caught on a nail and they heard a small rip, instantly the two of them were laughing quietly under their breaths. Mr. Branaugh pretended to tie his high boot lace while looking for the torn hem. He found the torn piece, swiftly reached out and broke it free from the rest of the dress. As he straightened up he smiled and reached out for her arm,
“There is nothing the matter with your dress now Madam..” as they walked in he pushed the piece of lace deep into his pocket.
They walked through the swinging doors of the Hotel Grande and were shown to a table overlooking the fields to the side of the hotel. A river flowed lazily by, right alongside the hotel window. As they ate they spoke of the ducks on the water, the lovers walking alongside the river and laughed again at the torn hem of her skirt.
After a lovely lunch they walked out to the carriage again, this time they rode even further out of town. They arrived at an old chateau, as Mr. Branaugh stepped out of the carriage Esme looked around her and wondered what they were doing here. They walked together to the front door and knocked. An old man who was in his seventies no doubt, opened up for them and smiled. Waving them cheerfully inside. He silently showed them to a waiting room and asked them to sit patiently. Esme looked questioningly at Joseph but he merely shrugged and smiled. After a period of silence, he returned,
“Could you follow me please…” the thin old man who had a thin old voice, waved at them to follow him. “…this way please Mr. Branaugh.”
They ascended to the second floor of the chateau and stood outside a door.
“What are we doing here Mr. Branaugh?” Esme asked in a hushed voice.
“Shh, you will see. Now please before we take another step, call me Joseph.” He smiled and leaned in closer to her, she felt her heart race at his nearness, the only man who had ever come that close to her was Joel.
She stopped short, and her heart grew heavy at the thought of him. The sound of the door opening snapped her out of her memories and she was ushered into a big bedroom.
She stopped and looked around. The walls were crimson-velvet, and the ceiling was high. Across it, in between a golden framework, were paintings as beautiful as the Sistine Chapel. The window was box framed, a long Chaise Lounge seat ran the entire length of the window, blue and red velvet cushions adorned it. Gold embroidered cushions were scattered over the bed and the carpet was plush blue, gold and red. She gasped as all of it sank in and squeezed Mr. Branaugh's arm.
“What is the purpose of this Joseph?” She asked quietly.
“There is someone I would like you to meet Esme. He is an old friend of mine and he is a very influential man in our town. Mr. Doherty.” He stepped forward and reached out a hand. Esme looked to where he was reaching and saw the tiny crumpled figure of a very old man sitting in a very large chair.
“Joseph!” She whispered “Is this the Mr. Doherty?” She blushed and then paled in quick succession.
“Yes Esme, it is He.”
Mr. Doherty had been Rupert’s violin master and had been instrumental in teaching and promoting musicians for the past fifty years or more.
He had orchestrated the collection and preservation of countless original manuscripts, collected vast amounts of violins and other valuable instruments. Everyone knew of Mr. Doherty.
“The reason I have brought you here Esme, is to discuss a business proposal” Mr. Branaugh shifted in his seat. He looked from the nodding Doherty to the interested Esme.
“Mr. Doherty has, as you know, a large collection of violins and instruments stored away. He wants to know if there is any way that you would be interested in donating money, you could sign the amount over to him right here.” He coughed.
“…and open up a musical museum or a collection for view if you would.” He straightened his suit. “Mr. Doherty will provide all of the instruments, and is willing even to sell you a portion of the instruments at a good price... If you are willing to put money down for a building. A renovation of an old house for example, then we could make it a safe haven for the instruments.” He shuffled in his seat and looked directly at Esme.
Esme rose calmly and walked out of the room.
She stopped outside the bedroom and waited for Joseph. When he followed her she spun around her eyes angry and her cheeks fiery red.
“How dare you!” She spat. “You didn’t even have the decency to tell me so that I could prepare myself! How can you expect me to have a… a business meeting when I have not had the time to even research the facts! I am sorely disappointed in you Joseph… Mr. Branaugh.” She walked down the stairs and was heading out of the door when she felt a strong arm grip her elbow and force her to a standstill. She turned in the moment and found herself being held tightly to Mr. Branaugh's broad chest. In a second she struggled to break free and pulled away staring up at him, seething with anger. The sorry look on his face quieted her rage.
“I’m sorry Esme.”
Joseph looked so genuine that she felt her anger seep away like the ebb of a low tide. ”I had to do this, to test your character; it was Rupert’s wish Esme. I had to come up with a way to prove that you are not frivolous and carefree with his money. It had to be done like this.” He nodded apologetically and she understood. She blinked slowly as the colour drained from her face, leaving her pale in comparison. He smiled then, and she mirrored his grin. He chuckled low, deep in his chest and linked arms with her, leading her back inside.
Later Joseph told her that if she had jumped into this “business proposal” she would have found out too late that the chances of making a profit from a violin museum were very slim. Doherty’s violins were in fact near worthless, as they had all been partially destroyed in a fire. If she had signed her money away to Mr. Doherty right then, she would have failed the test. Rupert had written a clause in his will that stipulated that, the person in charge of his wealth had to pass a test like this in order to be solely left responsible for the money.
Mr. Branaugh then informed her that contrary to popular belief, the laws had recently relaxed and that she was now the sole proprietor of Thorngate. Her strong will to succeed, her innate wisdom, had saved her yet again. She held no grudge against Joseph and they returned to the room to talk some more with the aged Mr. Doherty. They returned to Thorngate late that night and made plans to see each other again for lunch the next week.
Dawn held firmly to the words of her deceased husband
“I free you, follow your heart, Live out your dreams, and fulfill your greatest desires…“
For weeks after Rupert’s death she almost chanted the words to herself, trying to find a calling. She spent mornings praying in the chapel, asking for guidance because for years she had lived in the shadow of Rupert’s dreams and desires. One morning, before the sun had turned its face to Thorngate, she knew what she was meant to do. As soon as it was an appropriate hour she hurriedly got dressed, running from drawer to drawer looking for stockings, shoes, combs, shawls trying to waste as little time as possible. She ran to the door and then ever so calmly opened it and stepped out into the passageway. She walked over to Esme’s room and gingerly knocked on the door.
“Yes?” She heard rustling and knew that Esme too was already up and dressed.
“It is Mother, Esme.” She took a deep breath and smiled to herself.
The door opened and Esme ushered her in, placing a comb in her hand she smiled and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek,
“As payment for this early intrusion Mother, would you please brush my hair, I am having a terrible time with it.” She sat at her desk, the one that Rupert had written his last letter upon. Dawn began to brush it while Esme chatted on about ideas to improve Thorngate and bring in money and people from the town; she waited for a chance to speak.
“Esme…” She asked as she twirled Esme’s long hair up into a bun and secured it with a pin.
“I have had an idea.” She waited, her heart racing now.
“Well, Mother what is it? I’d love to hear it!”
“Esme, I want to open a school.” She closed her eyes and waited, placing her hands on Esme’s shoulders.
“A school... for whom?” Esme looked sweetly up at Dawn.
“I want a school for the children from the town whose parents may not be able to afford home schooling. I want to do what I did for you Esme.” She looked down.
Esme looked at the surface of the desk, her eyes ran slowly along the stain that Rupert had left behind; she placed both hands flat on the surface and nodded,
“I like it. I even know where we could have it.” Esme was racing, her active mind running with figures, dates, places, people and practicalities.
“So we will have a school?” Dawn moved her trembling hands.
“Of course Mother! There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t!”
Work started almost immediately to restore the old barn where Esme had spent all those months in solitary practice. The walls were scrubbed and painted white, the roof was cleaned and the windows replaced. They fitted the school with a coal stove for heat in winter and brought in writing desks complete with inkwells and quills. In a matter of weeks the barn was completely renovated into a wonderful little school.
They named it:
The Edgar-Harrison Public School
And invited all of the local people; including gentry, to the official opening. Wealthy people who wished to appear generous made donations of chalk boards, colouring paints, paper and other school work necessities leaving their names or mark on any items donated. At first there were only a few individuals who attended, but when news spread of the good that Dawn was doing the school became progressively fuller.
In the meantime, Mr. Branaugh was spending more time with Esme, treating her to long walks, horse rides, dinner, lunch and theatre. Esme had never been at the centre of so much attention. On the one hand she was enjoying herself but always present at the back of her mind was Joel, her first love.