The wind drove lonely clouds across a lowering sky and an icy rain was falling. Esmerelda pulled her shawl tight around her and hunched her shoulders. She leant into the wind, against the cold. She knew that somewhere in this desolate landscape she’d find the house. She knew that somewhere in the house, she’d find him. Would they let her see him? Would they know why she was there? Would he?
Ten years ago she could remember the way across the moors to the house. But that last time was in a summer of love and sunshine and so much had happened since. And there was so much more that was coming that Esmerelda daren’t take the chance of losing her way. She had to see him, she had to tell him about Elly before it was too late. She couldn’t risk getting lost, so she stuck to the road. Eyes down, one foot in front of the other, relentless and dogged along the sodden track.
The rain was coming down more heavily and it was getting dark. Off in the distance she could see the lights from the Hall. She trudged on determined, cold and so very alone as the dusk deepened and the wind picked up. To comfort herself Esmerelda took refuge in memories dragged up from the depths of her being, from somewhere deep amongst the shards of her broken heart. Simon had loved her, this she knew. Simon was coming for her this she knew too. Until things changed.
The certainty ended when she encountered a wayward hussar on the run from his regiment. He had told Esmerelda a different story when he had begged shelter. In a cavernous kitchen deep in the bowels of a big house, Esmerelda was getting food ready for the family. They were due to return to Harehurst Hall within hours and the whole house was in an uproar of preparations. She was humming softly and for a few brief moments, she was blissfully alone in the kitchen stirring a steaming pot of casserole. The hussar must have been waiting for his moment, the moment when Esmerelda was by herself. Drifting in and out of consciousness he had staggered in towards the warm, falling across the scullery threshold exhausted and hungry. An unexpected and filthy mess had fainted on Esmerelda’s immaculate floor.
Esmerelda gave a small scream of surprise, dropping her spoon into the depths of the stew. Hot gravy was splashing on her apron and burning her hands. At the sound of her cry the hussar roused himself and looked up, peering at her through tangled wet hair, his blue eyes bleary and bloodshot. He was wild with unspoken fear and looked about the kitchen in terror, lest someone else come into the room. But the rest of the staff were busying themselves elsewhere, anxious to be ready for the telltale sounds of hooves and wheels on gravel as the family finally arrived home. Esmerelda could see that this pathetic wretch could do her no harm. She could see that the poor man needed food, warmth and shelter. He was doing his best to whisper something and she thought she heard in his garbled mumbling something about Simon. She drew a sharp breath and hurried to shut the main kitchen door, locking it sharply.
… to be continued (or not).
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