It had been years since I left the Old House. I’d had the servants close the manor as I rode away and never looked back.
Now, as I dismounted from my horse I stood before the iron gates—as sable as moonless midnight. On the hill stood the birthplace of my fathers and myself.
The house rose on the hill like a faded yesterday, the dark shadows of the past. The windows were mauve draped, and no life seemed to stir—cold and sterile.
I tied my horse to the hitching post which my grandfather had built from his ship’s Mizzen mast. The white pine mast from our forest had endured over the decades.
Slowly I made my way to the massive oak doors. I was very hesitant to enter.
As I stood there, I glanced from side to side. The caretakers had maintained the exquisite gardens to each side and the grounds. They were as I remembered them in the yesterdays of innocence.
The rose bush which my mother had planted with my help when I was seven had grown past the arch of the door. Red roses hung like tears of blood on each side.
I realize tears of blood are a strange metaphor for a thing of beauty. However, I remembered when my bride-to-be arrived with her train of attendants, she reached out and touched a rose which had pricked her right index finger.
Drops of her precious blood fell upon her cerulean dress. When I saw her in the foyer the first thing that I noticed was the blood on her beautiful silk dress. Red droplets just did not harmonize with sky blue.
She graciously reassured me that her finger bled more profusely because she was in our house-to-be. Perhaps a bride’s baptism of her home, she said.
Little did we know that the initial baptism of her blood would be only a small down payment of what would be required of her in the year to come. Sometimes, the price of life is too costly. One’s precious blood is wasted on the uncaring earth.
I placed the iron key into the lock and turned it. I heard the familiar cylinders click open.
The servants had kept the place spotless. All was as I remembered it on my last day.
As I entered, a flood of memories from childhood rushed through my mind. The mahogany staircase had made a perfect pirate ship as my friends and I sailed our seven seas in search of booty and danger.
For my tenth birthday my father gave me a pair of toucans and a chest which he said had belonged to the infamous Captain William Kidd. My mother was more practical and gave me copies of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Red Rover, The Pirate, and Captain Singleton. Those books gave me plenty of dreams about the high seas and buccaneers.
Old Harold, my father personal valet, would always play along with us children. In essence he was a child at heart, and he had served as First Mate on my grandfather’s ship. He had a number of blood-chilling tales to share with us children.
To the right was the main drawing room with its Queen Anne chairs, Chesterfield sofas, rugged glacial stone fireplace, the Clavicytherium which my great grandfather had built, and the piano which Sebastien Erard had made for my grandmother’s 50th birthday. To the left was the elegant ballroom with its Venetian chandeliers, walls of windows and ceiling of polished bronze mirrors
The last ball rushed from the depths of my memories. It was a masqued ball with delightful costumes and music.
My bride was the new darling of the ball as well as the new mistress of the manor. All the young men wanted to dance with my acushla, the darling princess.
Even though she was very tired, she never allowed her tiredness to spoil the event for our guests. She was like moments of gold enkindled by flashes of light in her gold and silver gown.
Her niveous silk mask enhanced her azure eyes. Her sable hair fell freely down her back like textured layers of Vik Beach sand on a sunny Icelandic day.
After the ball, I held her as we sat for a long time in the drawing room before the fireplace. I could sense coldness in her, replacing her warmth. The sugar maple logs burned with a fever, but their enveloping waves of warmth could not touch her to warm her frail shivering frame.
I thought it was the night wind since it was so cold. Our lips did quiver, but little did I realize how fragile she was. The warmth of life was being carried away by the winds of fate.
In the weeks ahead my acushla grew weaker and weaker. The family physician prescribed rest and perhaps a change of venue—the South of France.
Of course, she did not leave the manor and rest was not on her horizon. She had her flower gardens and her daily ride to the parts of the estate that she loved—where a rivulet ran down from a brae.
She said that she could hear singing in the flowing water. She was a mystic at heart.
Business called me away to the great city on the river. I asked if she wanted to come, but, no, her place was here.
As the affairs of men so often do, it took much longer to deal with the drudgery of shipping and banks and merchants. When I returned to the manor on a very cold and windy early Spring night with rain like ice pellets, Old Harold greeted me at the door.
By the look on his face I could sense something was not right. Without saying a word, I rushed to the bedchamber where my acushla was being attended by the physician who had brought me into the world and was there to comfort my mother after father passed beyond our realm. He was there for me when mother went to join father in whatever reality is beyond, or so I thought at the time.
He gave me a sad look of despair and left the room. Sitting down on the bedside, I gently stroked her right hand, which was so cold—like a winter night when the embers have died in the fireplace and snow had begun to fall. I noticed the rose scar on her index finger. It was the only part of her hand which seemed to be warm.
She opened her azure eyes and smiled. She whispered softly, “I love you, my darling husband.” I gently kissed her pale lips, which were like a cold goblet of Earl Grey.
The next ten days went too quickly. I am convinced that sand in the hourglass races faster when we are looking. How else can you explain it? Ten days were like ten seconds—too short and too painful to be real.
As my beloved took her last breath, my tears came and came. It is so difficult to say good-bye with the final kiss, the final touch of life.
What was strange was that her scared right index finger bled profusely. Perhaps, the manor demanded a better baptism of her precious blood.
We buried her at her favorite spot by the singing rivulet. After family, friends and servants had left, I stood there hoping to hear the singing which she heard, but alas, I heard no singing, just water rushing over pebbles.
How could water sing when it had no music? Water could never love nor embrace a thing of loveliness like my acushla, the darling princess.
Perhaps, a song in private is just that—a private moment which another one cannot share. For me there were no songs, just cold earth lying in a heap on what once was but was not anymore. It was near sunset before I left.
Life slips away so silently. She was like the wind caressing your face one moment and gone the next. Her touch was like a dream which when once faded can never be recaptured.
Breaking my reverie, I cast my gaze up the spiral staircase where the family portraits of three centuries stared at me with their pensive looks. To my right was the place for our portrait which would have been painted in the month of May if my acushla, the darling princess, had lived.
A sense of remorse overwhelmed me as I placed my right hand on the empty space. The hanging place was as cold as the tomb.
Slowly, I walked up the stairs to my bedchamber. I did not come to spend the night, but to retrieve a letter. Then I planned to leave this place with its assortment of memories forever. The place was too cutting to my dying soul to remain more than a few minutes.
The night before my beloved died she wrote a letter which she placed on her cherry writing table under the dome window. Back then I could not bear to read it.
As I entered the room, the light from the dome window was shining on her portrait. It had been painted on the night of the ball.
It seemed so long ago. In fact today was the tenth anniversary of her departure from this realm of sorrow.
She believed in a world to come, but I gave up believing in such things when I left the manor and saw the world for it was—a cruel, cold place where love is a commodity for thirty pieces of silver and human life is like an old horse sold to the glue factory.
Sitting down at her writing table, I picked up the letter. For the first time in ten years I smelled her perfume, jasmine and lavender.
How could a scent remain for ten years I wonder? I had forgotten the scent of jasmine and lavender—her scent; how could I have forgotten such a fragrance of loveliness?
Her penmanship was flawless. The letter was addressed to “My Beloved Husband and Best Friend”.
Opening the lacy envelope, the single page fell onto the desk. Picking it up, I read,
Fate has decreed a temporary separation for us, my love. Our short, very short, time together has been best time of my life. Our love permeates this room and this manor.
While you were gone, I visited every room and could sense our love, our song. Our song is what I hear when I visit the rivulet running down the brae.
I know tears will come, but always keep in mind, my beloved, joy comes in the morning. The flowers open to the sun’s rays as they melt the night dewdrops.
Dewdrops! When I think of you, I am blessed like the rose petals to be touched by your love.
May the grace of our love and its memory be with you until the final moment when you say farewell to this life of joy and sorrow.
With all my heart and soul, your loving wife and best friend.”
As I finished the letter, the scent of jasmine and lavender was overwhelming. I glanced at her portrait, but the morning sun had covered it with the brightness of day. All the dark shadows of night were gone from the chamber.
Placing the letter in my Prince Albert coat pocket, I walked to her grave by the rivulet from the brae. As I stood there, I heard the song and all the memories of her love came flooding over me.
I smiled for the first time in ten years. It was a bit painful, but the pain gave way to joy, a release from the prison of sorrow which had kept me in shackles for ten years.
For the first time in a long time I felt peace, a tranquil bucolic peace. The memory of us lying in a field of wild flowers came back as we watched the clouds and the flowers dancing from the touches of the late Spring wind.
I had come home not to leave again, but to stay. Because she was there in every room because love cannot die. It just changes to the fragrance of jasmine and lavender.
G. D. Williams © 2014