In the morning, he walked me home. I had so many questions, but didn’t know how to ask them, so we walked in silence.
As we approached the street my house was on, I could sense something was wrong. There was a tension in the air. We turned the corner and I stopped dead. There was my father, shouting orders at the guards.
“He wasn’t due back until tomorrow,” I could feel the fear spreading through my veins like ice.
Jack took my hand, “we’ll figure something out.”
We started forward slowly, hand in hand. My father didn’t see us straightaway, too busy berating the guards for my absence. We stopped behind him and Jack coughed politely. “Mr Mayor,” he began, “I have come to request permission to court your daughter.”
My father turned and grabbed me by the arm. “My daughter,” his voice was low, cold, hard, “knows she will marry only who I tell her to marry. She also knows better than to leave the house, unchaperoned,” he added, almost as an afterthought. He stabbed a finger at Jack, “I should have you arrested for kidnapping her. And I will, if I ever see you again.”
He started pulling me toward the house. Jack made as if to follow, but I shook my head. I’ll be fine, keep yourself safe, I tried to tell him with a look.
My father dragged me into the house. He had such long strides, my feet could barely keep up. He slammed the door and then the yelling came, about my lack of regard for his reputation, leaving the house dressed as I was, staying out all night in the company of someone of a lower class and a known revolutionary. “And you let That Woman into the house, when you know I have forbidden it.”
I stopped cold, “how did you know about that?”
“The servants, at least, are loyal to me,” he snapped, yanking my arm to get me moving again. He dragged me to the basement, flung open the door and pushed me down into the darkness. “You’ll be down there until you learn some obedience.” I heard the door slam, and the lock click shut.
I sat in the cold and dark. I pulled my coat tighter around me. It was Jack’s that I had borrowed the night before. It made me feel safer, knowing he was outside, even though he couldn’t help. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything stupid. This was the angriest I’d seen my father since that night long ago, the last time I’d seen my mother. I had just turned six. She told me to stay in my room, and I had hidden under the bed, afraid of the shouting and crashing I could hear through the floorboards. When I had crept downstairs in the morning, she was gone. Even at that age, I knew better than to ask where she was.
It made me shudder to think of it. I tried to conjure up memories of her, but they were elusive. I put my hands in the pockets of the coat for warmth and found something tucked inside. The photo from Jack’s mantelpiece. My mother smiled out at me. Whatever happened, she had never been afraid of my father. As I looked at the photo, a faint memory drifted into my mind of a lullaby she would sing to me as a child. I hummed it softly and gradually drifted off into a fitful sleep.
A storm broke in the night and I was woken sharply by a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. As the thunder died, I realised I could hear the melody of the lullaby faintly echoing around the room. I suddenly knew I was no longer alone. I could feel her presence next to me.
In the next flash of lightning I could see her, the same blue dress, pale skin, dark hair styled elegantly. She leant forward to kiss my forehead and then looked deep into my eyes, as if she were memorising my features. I felt rather than heard her say she would make things right. And then she was gone.
I don’t know how long I was in the cellar. I wondered what punishment my father had in store for me. But when the door eventually creaked open, it wasn’t him but my Godmother who was standing at the top of the stairs. She gently drew me up into the house, settled me on the drawing room sofa, gave me water and sent a servant to find me some food.
“He was found this morning,” she was saying. “He was slumped over his desk, gun in his hand.”
She showed me the note he had left. It said, simply, “I killed my wife.” But the writing wasn’t his.
I held up the photo I was still clutching tightly and showed my Godmother.
“I saw her,” I whispered. “She did this, she rescued me. It’s her writing.” And then I wept, not for him, but for her.
My Godmother held me until the tears subsided.
When I had recovered, she told me that soon she would help me pack what I needed to move in with her family, as she would now be my guardian. “But first,” she said, “if you are up to it, you have a visitor.”
I nodded, curious, and she went to open the door. Jack was sitting out in the corridor, but now he jumped to his feet. As I stood up to greet him, she whispered in my ear, “Guess who gets to arrange your marriage now.” She had that magic twinkle in her eye again.