5th November 1777
I know I am getting ahead of myself but my mother is insufferable! She cornered me as I was reading in the sitting room this evening. In truth I was not reading at all although I am usually quite fond of the Bard's work. I was engaged in the study of a small portrait I had tucked between the pages. I had been tracing the familiar chin and lingering over those perfectly proportioned lips which, though they were pursed together in a sombre manner, I imagined curling up into one of her fantastically warm smiles. For all the talent of the artist, the portrait could not do her justice. Her locks were not red enough, nor her eyes green or as sparkling as they are in reality. I have not seen her since September but her eyes burn as brightly in my mind as though I saw them just yesterday. (It is this horrid weather which keeps us all indoors and starved of parties or picnics, or any other opportunity I might have to see her!).
I was forced to snap my worn little volume closed as my mother approached without announcing herself until she was almost on top of me. Her immediate conversation came across a little forced. She inquired what I was reading, to which I replied, 'As You Like It.' I noticed her dismissive glance at the mention of the comedy, I suppose she would rather have me reading something dreary like 'Romeo and Juliet.' I rather wickedly added that I very much enjoyed Rosalind in her mannish disguise and her expression became distraught indeed. At that moment I realised what deceitful daughter I was, concealing the truth of my feelings for another woman from my own mother who has naught but my best interests at heart.
She then proceeded to drill me at length on Edward's merits. By the end of her speech even I thought that he was some saint, perhaps George in his shining armour slaying dragons and winning the hearts of fair maidens. But as she continued, with fervour in her voice that frightened me, I began to see through her words for the fakery they were. It is a sad day indeed when a young lady realises that she can no longer depend on the council of her mother.
I began to see just how serious she was about the whole Edward affair when I dared question her careful plans. I merely suggested that Edward may not be the one for me and it was as though the very fires of hell were unleashed. She swiftly moved from exposing Edward's merits to naming me an 'ungrateful wretch.' From what I could then gather of the torrent of words flowing from her lips, it was my duty to marry well in order to salvage the last scraps of the Maclay reputation. Her words did shock me somewhat, while I was aware that money was perhaps not as abundant as it ought to be, I was not aware that father's debts had eaten into almost everything. Mother made it clear that my marriage to Edward was not just a formality, but a necessity. My duty was clear, when Edward asked me to marry him I would say yes. There was no other answer to give. Until then I would attend functions on his arm, hang on his every word and be in all outward appearances the model of a perfect young lady. Mother was in tears by the time she had finished and my own eyes burned fiercely. With W's portrait concealed within my volume of Shakespeare, I made a hasty exit from the room lest I say anything that would cause my mother further heartache. As I made my way through the house I felt oppressed, as though the very walls were conspiring against me.
As I felt suffocated, I ran to my bedroom window and threw it open, shivering as a cold blast of winter air hit me like a wall. I gazed out into the darkness that surrounded the house and willed the wind to carry me away. I imagined soaring away from my mother and the walls of the house which I now saw as my prison, it would carry me over field, stream and wood until I reached Hagley Park. W would be waiting for me there. I would fall into her arms and never again dwell on the thought of being forced to marry Edward Walsh. It was a simple wish, just for two people to be together.
The harder that I wished this miracle would occur, the more freely hot tears splashed onto my cheeks. They lingered there for but a second before being driven away by the wind. It did not pick me up and take me away. I was left standing at the window with the curtains whipping into a frenzy around my body. I cursed my fate to be born into such a cruel world, a world that forced people to marry against their wishes and not for love. I curse the world still. More anon diary, for I cannot write another sentence on this night.
Willow's brow was furrowed and the very tip of her pink tongue protruded from her lips, both signs of intense concentration. Her white shirt sleeves were rolled back, up over her elbows and her waist coat hung open in a relaxed fashion. She worked a pencil across a sheet of paper in front of her, pausing every few moments to review her work before continuing. As the time passed, the lines spreading across the paper formed into a shape from her memory. It was an image that burned behind her eyes, even almost two months after seeing it for the first time.
Her furrow brow deepened when she was not happy with some aspect. She picked up her eraser and wiped a portion of the drawing from the page before continuing. Her pencil worked for a few more minutes before she held the end of it in her lips to free up her fingers and create shading. She smeared the pencil at appropriate points, the pencil between her lips swaying with her movements.
The tip of her index finger blackened, Willow retrieved her pencil from between her lips and added a few more necessary touches. A small smile spread across her face as the sketch neared completion. Willow paused again, drawn before her was an almost perfect representation of the woman she had seen in the park.
She could not begin to explain it, but even two months after their fleeting encounter she could not forget the pale stranger. Although had lasted mere minutes in one day of her busy life, Willow felt as though their meeting had some sort of significance. A week after the meeting she had tried to shrug it off with the simple explanation that the woman was exceptionally beautiful, why would she not create a lasting impression? Two weeks later and she was still on Willow's mind, interfering with her research and whatever personal time she had. When she slept, she would see her face. In the absence of a name or a voice, her face was all Willow had. Two months later, her symptoms had not changed and the desire to know more was driving her insane.
Willow could not bring herself to develop the photograph she had taken of the woman on her Kodak. As much as she wanted to, she felt as though she had violated the woman's privacy. Although at the same time, she could not bring herself to destroy the roll of film. It was tucked away at the back of the bottom drawer of her desk...hidden but not forgotten.
"Our intrepid adventurer returns!"
An irreverent yell burst through her concentration by scaring the living daylights out of her. Willow jumped sharply, stabbing the lead of her pencil down so hard that the lead snapped off. She stared with irritation at the resulting dark spot on her portrait but was thankful it had not been on the nose or anywhere else noticeable. As the whirlwind that was Myles Cavendish entered her office, Willow shoved the scrap of paper beneath a partially unravelled scroll. She turned and was pleasantly surprised to see a second person following the boy.
"Miss me?" Faith swept into the room, still clad in her dusty riding leathers and a badly rumpled travelling jacket.
"Faith!" Willow greeted her friend with genuine warmth even as she gave Myles an annoyed glare for his spontaneous and unannounced entrance.
She scraped her chair back and stood to join the others. Willow took one look at Faith's dirty clothing and neatly sidestepped any potential embrace.
"I'm not touching you until you've changed!" Willow yelped as Faith back her up against her chair.
Faith glanced down. She was covered, as much as she could see, in dust as well as a generous splattering of mud. Her boots were caked in the stuff and small clumps had been tracked across Willow's rug. When she glanced back up she was pleased to see that Willow was so pre-occupied with her return, she had not noticed the accompanying mud.
She did of course realise that much of Willow's preoccupation was not to do with her own presence, but rather the satchel which was thrown over her shoulder. Willow had her eyes fixed on it, shifting from one foot to another as though she were about to launch into a dance.
"Before your head explodes..." Faith began as she swung the satchel from her shoulder so she could open it, "The library was mostly empty..."
"Empty!" Willow cried in despair, it was as though her entire world had just come crashing down, "How could it have been empty...was it cleared out by thieves or perhaps Dracula's...I mean Vlad's cohorts?"
"The church I believe," Faith replied quickly, not wanting to prolong Willow's distress, "There were several painted inscriptions on the walls to ward off evil spirits...I tried to glean additional information but there was little to be had other than that every scrap of parchment may have been burned almost 150 years ago. No evidence of fire with the actual ruins of the monastery itself, or the library so I would say they had it taken away."
"They burned the books," Willow whispered in abject horror, there was hardly a more heinous crime in her opinion.
Faith flipped open her satchel and withdrew an armload of leather folders and several books, "Will, calm down, all was not lost, I discovered a secret compartment and within lay these...I had not the opportunity to discern their contents but I hope they at least make up for some of your disappointment."
Willow accepted the armload gratefully, "Well, I don't know if any small amount of material will compensate for burnt books...but thank you."
Willow scanned through the leather folders which all held sheets of parchment covered in a foreign scrawl. She instantly noted that most were in Latin, with a few more exciting prospects bearing the runic Rovas script native to Hungary. Those folders she set down on her desk and scanned the book titles. Of the four that Faith had brought back with her, two were account books, one was a library catalogue - a cruel reminder of what had been lost - and the other was an anomaly.
"It's a diary," Willow said with a small frown flipping the fourth book over in her hands
"I know, I had a quick look at it," Faith nodded, "The initial text is in English and most of the dates I can make out are eighteenth century so I'm not at all sure how it even came to be at Tirgsor...not to mention hidden in a secret compartment with papers of real historical significance...just seems to be sentimental feminine rubbish."
Willow was flipping through the diary as Faith spoke, scanning dates and noting that it was written in a clear, almost elegant hand.
"It mostly appears to be talking about marriage...as you would expect of an eighteenth century woman's diary," Faith continued with a dismissive shrug.
"A woman's diary!" Myles craned his neck to catch a better glimpse of the worn volume, "Any naughty bits?'
"You wouldn't know a naughty bit if I slapped you in the face with it, Myles," Faith cuffed the lad lightly over the back of his head.
"I agree...although the text changes half way through and I can't decipher it. It's not any language I'm familiar with, or can recognise...which is strange as I can recognise most," Willow voice betrayed her slight professional annoyance at not being able to recognise the script, There's an address inside the front cover though..."
Willow flicked the pages aside and looked at the inside of the leather bound cover, it was more than a little strange. There was an address somewhere in Hampshire that she was unfamiliar with, it had been struck out with a single, heavy black line. A small inscription in the same hand followed.
"Dearest W, Farewell - May this token of me provide you some comfort," Willow read aloud before squinting to read the single letter following, "And then what looks like a J...or a T perhaps."
"How lovely," Faith commented sarcastically.
"It sounds as though there are naughty bits," Myles added hopefully.
Willow ignored them both and traced her fingers over a second address which followed the inscription. It was written in the same heavy black pen that had struck out the first address. It was an address in Bloomsbury, written in a clear and precise hand that Willow immediately admired for its penmanship. She set the diary aside, tossing it on one of her stacks of books that littered the floor before turning her attention back to the real gems Faith had brought.
"This catalogue could keep me going for months, Faith," Willow ran her fingers over the tooled leather cover, "And it's all in Latin, thank goodness, as my Hungarian is awful..."
The diary sat forgotten as Willow turned page after page of the catalogue and ignored both Faith and Myles. Faith was looking on indulgently while Myles kept casting covetous at the diary which lay within reach of his fingers. However, Faith was quicker and as he reached out to pick it up she seized his wrist and squeezed tightly.
"Ow!" Myles protested, "I just wanted a little look!"
Faith released her hold on his wrist and he rubbed it gingerly. She knew full well his intention had been to search out any so called 'naughty bits.'
"Myles, it was written in the eighteenth century, I don't think women in those days knew how to be naughty, let alone write about it so I assure you, you're not missing out on anything," Faith placed her hand on the young man's shoulder and gently steered him towards the door, "I think Giles might need some help unwrapping the artefacts I found concealed in the ruins...there is a wicked looking gauntlet covered in spikes that I believe may have belonged to Dracula himself. Just don't try it on...I think it has been bewitched with a possession spell."
Myles' eyes widened as though he could not wait to get his hands on the gauntlet and do exactly what Faith had warned him against...trying it on. He mumbled a few nonsensical words, presumably excusing himself, and left the room at a dead sprint. A few moments later there was a very loud crash somewhere down the hallway and an angry voice condemning all boys who did not look where they were going to the depths of hell.
With Myles safely out of the picture in Giles' capable hands, Faith could now focus her attention on Willow. Her friend had had returned to her chair while she had been talking to Myles and was now looking up at her with wide eyes. Faith quickly realised that Willow was not waiting for her to deliver any further information from her trip or simply have a friendly conversation. Willow was waiting for her to leave so she could get back to her work. She sat poised with her pencil in one hand and the other hand gently holding open a ratty looking scroll. Faith gave an angry snort and reached down to snatch the pencil away. When Willow made a desperate lunge, she hid it behind her back and out of reach.
"What have you been doing with yourself these past months, Will?" Faith asked in a distinctly motherly tone of voice, betraying her sincere concern for her friend, "You look bloody awful...and stop looking at my hand like that; you're not getting your pencil back anytime soon!"
"I just haven't been sleeping well lately," Willow shrugged, "It's nothing serious, my mind has just been working so much I find it hard to relax...it's just a phase and will pass in time."
Faith pursed her lips together, "And I'm sure you also haven't been eating, nor taking walks outside...honestly Will, I don't know how many times I have to tell you to look after yourself."
"It's nice to know you care..." Willow began, managed at small smile as she was truly touched by her friend's concern.
"Damn right I care!" Faith interrupted, lunging forward to plant both her arms around Willow's shoulders, despite her dirty clothing "Your parents don't seem to give a toss...and you certainly don't seem to care about yourself either."
When Faith pulled back a few moments later, Willow's cheeks carried a slight pinkish tinge. She was definitely unused to being embraced, even by her best friend.
"I'm fine Faith, will you please give the pencil back, I'm in the middle of something very important."
"Only if you tell me what you're working on?" Faith dangled the pencil within Willow's grasp.
"It's nothing," Willow spluttered all too quickly as she retrieved her pencil.
As she moved, she lost her grip on the scroll and the paper snapped back into it tight roll to reveal what was hidden beneath. Willow could not recover the portrait before Faith spied it and snatched it away. Mortified, Willow leapt to her feet intent on recovering the drawing before Faith could examine it closely. A tussle began between the two as Willow tried to grasp at Faith's arm. After avoiding Willow's rather pathetic attempts, Faith reached out and grabbed Willow's flailing hand with her left. In one swift movement she had twisted the small woman's arm around her back.
Willow yelped in pain as Faith held her arm pinned at an uncomfortable angle. She had to cease her struggling or continue to feel as though her shoulder was being popped out of its socket. This left Faith free to examine Willow's pencil sketch with impunity.
"Here I was thinking I'd interrupted some vital departmental research...and all you were really doing was drawing pictures!" Faith chuckled lightly and then let out a low whistle, "So who is she?"
"No one," Willow mumbled, feeling her cheeks flaming. In response, Faith cruelly twisted her arm a little higher up her back and she let out another yelp, "Okay, okay...it's a woman I saw..."
"And continue to see?" Faith asked with excitement clearly registering in her voice.
"Saw...once!" Willow clarified with a strong emphasis on both words, "I just saw her once in the park."
"You saw her once in the park and she made such an impression that you had to sketch her portrait?" Faith asked, this time in disbelief, "And exaggerated more than a little too, no one can be this beautiful...you've got rich tastes, Will."
Now that she had her answers, Faith released her grip on Willow's wrist. Willow reached around Faith and snatched the drawing back. She folded herself back into her chair and set her drawing back down on her desk. With her thumb she smoothed out the wrinkles in the corner where Faith had held it. One finger gently traced the curve of cheek she had drawn in exact imitation of the one she had seen that had remained fixed so boldly within her mind. Just gazing upon that face made her forget any anger she may have felt towards Faith for dragging the truth from her so cruelly. A small laugh even escaped her lips when she realised just how silly she was being.
When Willow kept her head down and did not speak, Faith's brow knotted in concern. She feared that she had dreadfully wounded the red-haired girl's feelings with her tactless and somewhat brutal questioning. Willow's laugh she mistook for a choked sob.
"Willow, I'm awfully sorry, you know me...no manners or anything," Faith felt ridiculous and more than a little stupid, "I'll just go and leave you to...well, whatever it is that you were doing."
"I did not exaggerate," Willow replied quietly as she heard Faith back up towards the door, she swivelled in her seat, "Faith, she was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes upon."
Her smile had morphed into a dreamy sort of expression usually reserved for those smitten with a potential lover. Faith was a little unnerved at first; she had never seen Willow look quite so dopey. However, nor had she seen her look quite so tired and promptly decided that it was her duty to help her friend find this woman.
"I'll help you find her again," Faith promised, pausing in the doorway with one hand resting against the frame.
Managing to drag herself away from the portrait in front of her, Willow swivelled in her chair to face Faith. A sad smile flitted across her tired face.
"I don't see the point," she whispered, stifling a yawn that betrayed her exhaustion, "Even if I did find her I wouldn't know what to do...and she certainly wouldn't feel the way I do about her..."
"You want to have sex with her," Faith added casually.
"Faith!" Willow hissed, eyes darting to the door as though every employee of the British Museum were standing there listening in on the most private conversation of her entire life.
Cheeks tinged with red to match her hair, Willow studied Faith's expression carefully for traces of anything other that acceptance and friendship. She had never expected to tell another living soul of the way she felt about women, even her best friend.
"Faith, I would appreciate if you did not speak of my...inclinations to anyone, if my parents were to find out that I am a...lesbian..."
The word came out in a barely audible whisper and Willow's cheeks flamed further.
"Would you really care if they did?" Faith interrupted Willow before she could continue with her awkward statement, it was obvious she was hardly surprised by Willow's revelation, "You don't depend on them for a thing...and you certainly wouldn't miss their company."
"I know," Willow replied, biting her lip for a moment, "But they're still my parents...and you really don't care?"
"Why would I care Will? You're the dearest, kindest, bravest soul that I know and the fact that you're of the sapphist persuasion only serves to confirm all that...I love you, you know."
"Faith, I'm not attracted to you..." Willow began slowly.
"You're not? Why ever not?" Faith said in an incredulous and very serious tone, a split second later she burst out laughing, "I meant I love you in a strictly platonic manner..."
"Oh," Willow muttered, quite embarrassed, "Thanks..."
"And don't worry about your mystery woman. Such matters work themselves out...always," Faith replied encouragingly, "Besides, if you find her and she tells you to bloody leave her alone at least you'll be able to stop mooning about like a sick puppy and get a good night's rest."
Willow smirked with genuine mirth, "You always know how to make a girl feel better."
"You have no idea," Faith winked suggestively, laughing when Willow's cheeks reddened for a second time.
"Why don't you go home?"
Willow glanced at her pocket watch and her eyes widened in mock horror, "Leave work at 4pm? Gracious Faith, I don't think I've ever been quite so daring."
"Call it a start, you're going to have to get a whole lot more daring in order to ensnare this mystery women of yours," Faith fetched Willow's satchel and coat which, in the absence of a coat stand, were tossed on a stack of books, "You didn't catch her name did you?"
Willow allowed herself to be dragged up out of her chair. She held out her arms as Faith pulled her coat on and even moved to do the buttons up. Although it felt somewhat odd being buttoned up by another adult, Willow found it was comforting in a strange way.
"I've no idea, I feel as though it should be something grand and beautiful to suit her face..." Willow tried to imagine what a grand and beautiful name would be but she had no idea, "It is just as likely to be Jane or Anna."
"Well, your first task is to find out her name," Faith decided as she passed Willow's satchel over her head and settled it at her side, "Once we know who she is and what kind of people she comes from...we can work out a plan of attack."
What if I never see her again? was the only thought that ran through Willow's head...although she could not bring herself to say it aloud and deflate Faith's optimism.
With an air of finality Faith bodily shoved Willow out of her office. In order to ensure that her work-bound friend did not double back, Faith walked her all the way to her tram stop before leaving to return to work. She muttered something about reporting back to Croft. There was a wicked gleam in her eye not usually associated with reporting that made Willow suspect that Faith knew a little too much about the 'sapphist persuasion' she spoke of earlier.
Willow was left waiting for the next tram, never one to stand still and do nothing she began to feel antsy after only a minute or so of waiting. Although she now did not regret leaving work early, she was slightly miffed that she had forgotten to pick up a stack of papers or a book to while away her tram ride. Digging around in her satchel in the hope of finding something to occupy her mind, her fingers closed on a book spine. She drew it out to find the diary Faith had brought back from Eastern Europe. A small frown creased her forehead; she did not remember ever putting it in her satchel. Not quite knowing why, she flicked it open and found the same notations just inside the cover, the strange dedication and the two addresses. While Hampshire was much too far to walk, Willow again noted that the second address was mere blocks from where she stood waiting for her tram. As Faith's challenge echoed in her head, Willow ignored the approaching tram and made what she thought was a very daring decision indeed.
After a quarter of an hour stroll, Willow had lost much of the rash impulsiveness that had led her to sleuth out the address in the first place. Actually standing in front of the house was an entirely different story. Willow gazed up at the generously sized townhouse towering imposingly above her head and immediately felt intimidated by the austere fašade. The stone used was a steely grey and in the dull light of a winter's afternoon it appeared almost black. There was little ornamentation of any form save for the ivy which dared to creep up the left side just above the ground floor windows. Three floors rose up from the ground before the sharply pitched tile roof angled away from her. Several dark gable windows punctured the roof's surface. She imagined the writer of the diary to be inside, bent over a writing desk and still scribbling madly.
1777...even if they lived until the were old and wrinkled they'd be long dead...
Willow shivered, the house itself unnerved her despite the light shining from several of the windows. Although someone obviously lived there, Willow felt as though the house should be empty. She couldn't quite place the exact feeling, but it was of one of emptiness...emptiness and waiting.
Just my luck that the person who owns it now will be one step away from the asylum. Willow shuddered at the thought of some wizened old creature, starved of company, inviting her in for tea and never letting her leave again.
Willow was still plucking up the courage to approach and knock on the massive black door when she glanced upwards once more. A chill seized her entire frame. A pale white face stared at her from a dark gable high above. With her blood pounding in her ears, Willow fought for calm but it would not come. Although the glance lasted seconds before she wrenched her eyes away, Willow could not remember exactly what she had seen other than that she knew it was a face, and it had been looking directly at her. There was no question of her knocking on the door now...
Hello...I'm Willow Rosenberg, you don't know me but is the ghost that lives in your attic friendly?
Before she knew quite what she was doing, her feet were pounding on the pavement. The chill did not leave her body as she ran the entire distance between the house and her tram stop. Even when she was on the next tram, her body pressed against a seat warmed from a previous body, Willow could not shake the cold fear brought about by the house. She immediately made up her mind not to tell Faith. To flee as fast as possible from a common, run of the mill ghost was a case for tarring and feathering in Faith's book. Or even worse, she could have been running from the sight of a child playing in the attic. Willow felt exceptionally foolish and even more resigned to the fact that she was not suited to fieldwork.
Something crawled between her shoulder blades. Willow felt as though she were still being watched...although by what she had no idea.