Victor looked out on the darkening sky and felt a shard in his heart each time he heard the thunder coming. Caroline was now retired for the evening and he could not bring himself to listen to her sob. He could not listen to the wailing for what she thought she was losing, knowing all the while what he had lost himself. He gnashed his teeth in silent resentment of what she had said. The way she still looked at him like he was a young child who had simply wandered away from home. She looked upon his home with awe and yet she still came here to bring him back. He could not lay eyes on that house again. Not with his memories. He cursed his sister’s name as he closed his eyes and tried in vain to ignore the dying fire behind him. The cold chill was too prevalent in the room and he could not hold the memories at bay. He stifled a tremor in his chest.
A fine young woman, they’d told him when he’d met her. Standing in the kitchen for the first time, she was barely nineteen and her crystal blue eyes never looked up from the stone floor. Hiding behind the white blonde locks of her hair, she seemed to shiver as she breathed. It was as though she was taking in the small crevices of the ground and trying to find one to hide in. He was a full year older than her at that point and his heart burst just to look at her. His cheeks still flushed to think of his father and the men of the household when they introduced her into her position. They spoke of her like she’d been a good horse but it was emphasized to him that she was a work horse. Of course, he was the only one being honest with himself. He was loathe to think of what they truly thought when they were alone. When the ideas that they lived with were allowed to come to the surface in the dead of night when wives were asleep and children put in their rooms.
He ground his teeth at the memories of the lecherous eyes trailing her the moment she stepped into the room and had been formally introduced. He had been in the midst of getting groomed to take over the duties of the household but they bored him so. The day had been an exercise in tedium when she arrived. She was so fair that she might have been an apparition. He saw her as only a young man who had lost his heart could. He was well aware that the swell of emotion in him was not one that he felt alone. In the middle of the night, he’d seen them. She would be still tending to the last of her chores and they would happen by, watching her on her knees. The fair skin of her hands turning red and raw in the water and he longed to soothe them. They watched her, longing to restrain her and keep her like a caged bird. Watching her washing floors or preparing for the morning meal. A fine woman for the position of scullery maid but little else his father had said but Victor had seen different. He’d noticed their wolves stares after her the day she arrived. Even his terrible father had been keen to ignore his own words as the mere scullery maid in his presence stood, bewitching as she was.
Annabelle had been the first love he would know and the name he would whisper in the darkness as the key to his escape. The first thorn in his heart. The very sound of her name brought back everything that had come to pass and a part of him ached for the past as much as he wished to banish it all into the ashes of his memories. To examine it now was useless and yet as the storm brewed and lashed at his rooftop, he found he could not keep contain the contents of his heart. It was true, he could never be certain of her love for him but the nights they shared were memories he kept close when he fled his father’s domineering grasp. When he discovered the fiendish truth of why he was to be in charge of so much of the estate, even when his father was in good health, he could not contain his seething. He could not remain there and from the day he last laid eyes on his beloved Annabelle, he had planned his escape from the clutches of a promise that he would never have made. From the hell he had sentenced him to from the time that he was but a child. In truth, it was only Annabelle who saved him and only he ever truly knew her name. He knew that first day she stood shivering in the wolf’s den of the kitchen that his love was doomed to fail. He could not have understood then the cost of such a love but at twenty, he couldn’t know or understand what he could lose. What torment could be brought upon him.
The image still haunted him as he lay down his head each night. His mind had stubbornly recorded every detail with loving dedication to accuracy and he found himself brought to tears some nights at the thought of what he’d seen. The last time he saw his beloved as she lay as though she were asleep in the pond. The water ran so deep and it was said she rushed into the water of her own accord but he could never bring himself to believe it. When he saw her floating on the water’s surface, he felt his heart burst again but this time in agony. The girl who had been a woman to him drifted on the still water like a swan, her skin so pale it was as though she were becoming the ghost he’d once believed her to be before his eyes. Her white hair swirled about the water like angel feathers scattered on the surface and fluttered with an obscene grace as they pulled her from the water. Her wide blue eyes never opened again and against the soft, pale blue, translucent skin beneath the lids, her white eyelashes seemed to have stitched those jewels closed forever. Victor remained convinced that if only he could have gotten her eyes to open, he would have known the truth. He would have seen it reflected in her terrified eyes what that final image was and been able to prove it was not the suicide of a scullery maid but the murder of his lover.
Victor had been able to control at least some of the aspects of her burial and though he fought bitterly over it with many people, he insisted they could not prove her death was a suicide. The clergy disagreed but he knew that in the hearts of the corrupt, there was always a way or two around their objections. When he sold off the engagement ring he was to have used on his enforced suitor to pay for her funeral, his father was in hysteric fits. Victor had never been so pleased in his life as to watch that man lose his composure so completely. He had no proof it had been him who had taken his love away but he cared little for his father’s innocence by that point. The house became intolerable as father and son continued a game of who might be able to strike the final blow. While it distracted him from his pain to watch his father writhe, it did little to quell the melancholy he felt.
Annabelle. As he watched the blackened sky and the reflection of the fire nearly burning its embers into ashes, he thought of what might have been. Victor watched as the small orange glow of the last few coals slowly winked out and wished upon each one. The only wish he ever made and he knew, bitterly, that it could never be granted. This place was a solace for a time but nothing, it seemed, quelled his need to see her eyes. To gaze into the blue of those jewels and maybe he would finally see himself reflected in them. She need not love him completely at first. There was time for that and he was willing to do whatever it took to prove to her that his love was real. That he desired more than simply a scullery maid that could not speak her mind. He stood watching the storm in the gloom of the darkening room, feeling once again his own feverish wishes taking hold of his heart. If only he could have escaped sooner, he might have brought her here to see this new world. She would have loved him if he could have promised her a life of substance. If he’d only had the imagination then, he might have been able to sway her emotions to make her happy. If only he had the sense about him that he did now, she might be in his arms this night instead of a hidden grave in the French country side. Instead of hidden in his heart and poisoning his memories with her beguiling smile and her bright blue eyes. Perhaps if he’d been able to come to his senses sooner, she might have lived with him here and learned to love him as he did her.