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The Story of
It happened in a year I scorn, in a month I despise, in a day I can’t forget. But what am I talking about? I know you all gathered round me for a reason; you know who I am. Yes. I thought so. Be quiet, and let me start.
I was in my youth, about the ripe age of seventeen or nineteen, and I remember being somewhat pretty with green eyes, black hair teased into braids, and light golden skin. I worked at what I shall call “Thornblithe” for I don’t care to remember its real name though most of you know it. Don’t name it in front of me! I call it “Thornblithe” and “Thornblithe” it shall be.
I was a maid among two other girls who were twins, Lark and Lucy. They were much prettier than me, with darker skin and bright blue eyes, and also slightly younger. I recall they were short too. There were two other servants; a man, Silus, that minded the three horses and two pigs, and a gardener, Cleft, who kept our bushes at a respectable height and our flowers a nice hue of pink and purple.
I was happy enough at “Thornblithe”; I worked for a man I shall simply call “master.” He was a painter, a very accomplished one at that, and he often times managed to coax me into sitting still so he could paint me. He said Lucy, Lark, and I had the most wonderful shades to our skin. My master was very strange, for I knew no one else would ever have said such a thing.
My position was a strange one also; myself and the others were treated more like honored guests than servants. I cleaned, of course, and sometimes cooked, though the twins were much better at that, but he knew all our names and sometimes served us. Like I said, my master was a strange one. He liked things to be neat, and I always delivered, wanting to make him more than pleased with me. If he even saw a single dust bunny under the sofa, his eyes would smolder and he would clean it up himself without berating me, Lucy, or Lark.
But back to that year, that month, and that day.
It was hot, and the flowers were in full bloom. We usually saw our master outside in such weather, sitting on the porch to paint Silus as he tended the horses in the pasture at the front of the house. But he wasn’t on that day. We thought nothing of it, “we” being Lark, Lucy, and me. We were shelling peas on the porch. Sweat was gathering in the hollow of my neck and my apron lay rumpled on the boards at my feet. They were bleached from long exposure to sun and chipped in places. Cleft was going to paint over them soon, but he liked to abstain from such work as long as he could.
We had filled three wicker baskets already since my master wanted to live off of peas for at least three years, and I was working on the fourth. Lucy and Lark had already given in to gossip and were squealing about some milkman who made their blood burn hot. I was smirking at their noise, thinking them silly, when Cleft came down the drive from trimming the hedges near the road.
“Lorelei!” He called, waving at me.
Yes, my name. I don’t enjoy remembering it since my master used to say it in such a way that I liked. He had a lilt to his voice, whether Irish or perhaps Scottish, I couldn’t tell. My full name is Lorelei Listess, but I now go as Lori at my prime of eighty. Even my own grandchildren call me that. I doubt they even know my given name.
I waved back, somewhat lazily since the sun made my eyes droop and my body feel heavy. But he kept coming. I had such a bond with Cleft, who was eight years my senior at the time. It wasn’t like courting; he reminded me of my three brothers, two of whom worked as factory men and one who settled as a lawyer. He was the only one among us who had managed to make it to college. You see, his skin wasn’t nearly as dark as mine and he wasn’t a woman.
A pity. I feel I would have been a brilliant writer.
Cleft climbed the stairs, his white shirt tinged with sweat stains, and pointed to a billowing dust cloud and the carriage causing such ruckus.
I straightened, “Master didn’t say anything about a visitor.” I remarked, gaining the attention of Lucy and Lark.
“Who do you think it could be?” Lark asked, taking up a pea pod to shell, “Madam Rose? She has the closest appointment.”
My master had several men and women who got yearly portraits of them done by his swift hand. He was often highly praised by these few visitors who often invited him to visit. I was glad to be one of the few he had chosen to take as a sort of prodigy, Lucy being the other aspiring painter. I confess, I had no real affinity with the craft, but I was eager to try.
I ignored Lark’s question and settled back against the rocking chair. Our master never let his patrons mistreat us or scoff at us if we were taking a break, and I had no real reason to stand and direct any of them inside. They knew where he worked.
The carriage came ever closer, and Cleft sat down at my feet to help us shell the peas. We were the perfect picture of laziness as the carriage stopped before us, the black mares nickering in greeting. Cleft stood and took their reins as the driver hopped down and opened the side door. A tall man in a finely tailored blue suit stepped out onto the dusty road.
I watched him warily as he told Cleft to keep the horses there, “I won’t be long.” He made his way up the stairs with a brief tip of the hat to me and the twins.
A deep cold settled in the marrow of my bones as I watched him open the screen door and step inside. I wasn’t one for superstitions, but some feelings seem so strong that you have to trust your gut and listen to them. So I dropped the last of the peas into the basket and stood, gathering my apron and tying it around my waist.
“Where are you going, Lorelei?” Cleft asked, watching me descend the stairs and start for the back door.
“I have some chores to finish.”
I knew he was wondering why I decided to take the back door when the front was much closer, but I intended to wait in the kitchen while my master showed the guest upstairs. And the kitchen was the perfect place to listen in.
I entered through the back and was about to breeze past Silus to see if the close was clear, when he stood.
“Master’s busy, Lorelei.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I was a flighty thing, never one to leave the house at night or extinguish a candle in the dark for fear of someone creeping up on me.
I turned slowly, and cleared my throat, fishing for my blue cap in the pocket of my apron, “I have to sweep the⎯”
“Sit and take some tea?” He asked, bobbing his head at me.
I had never much liked Silus, not because he was mean, but because of how big he looked to me. We should never judge people on their looks or height, but he was at least six feet with an inch to spare and had an unruly blonde beard and long hair. I feel my fears were justifiable being a girl that was much shorter than he was.
“All right,” I assented, sitting down in the chair he pulled out for me.
“You feel it too?” He asked, moving around me to prepare my tea, heaping loads of sugar in like I liked it.
At first, I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but then I heard shuffling and loud voices in the parlor. He meant the newcomer.
I shrugged, and he handed me the tea with a grave look on his face, “A strange feeling? Like…”
“Something’s about to happen,” I finished, peering at my reflection in the tea.
He sat down opposite me, bulky frame blocking the back door from view. I could faintly hear Lark and Lucy laughing with Cleft, who had most likely abandoned his guard to talk with them. I felt a sudden protectiveness for them, one I often feel with my daughter and five sons when they forget to remind me through letters that they are not dead.
But my future is not past. I am telling a story. I must remember that you didn’t come for the random ramblings of an old woman.
I stood up from my chair then, feeling this strange protectiveness clench my stomach. I felt that the man who was invading our home was bad and my master was in danger.
“I have chores to do,” I told Silus, taking a small sip of tea so as not to hinder his feelings. Silus rarely worked his best when faced with arguments or strange words from one of us concerning his height and bulk. “I’ll see what I can find out.”
I had turned to go when Silus stopped me with a name, “I heard Master calling him Dr. Hussley.”
Let me remind you; some names I bring up are not true in this story. I apologize for this, but I don’t like to remind myself of the men or women I am speaking of.
I turned my head to nod and then left the kitchen. Out of the kitchen was a hall that led ahead to the living space where my master often took his meals instead of the dining room. He liked to watch the sun dip below the hills and match his paint colors on a little board to the hues of fading sun and dawning night. Over to the right of the living space was the staircase, rusting and chipping of paint, and below that was a little room for my cleaning things. I opened it briefly to collect my duster, so as to keep up the illusion of work if caught.
Then I ascended the stairs, slipping off my little black flats I wouldn’t be caught by the master and his visitor. I made my way over to his office, which was right of the stairs. No voices. I then moved onto my master’s painting room, silent on stockinged feet. My master usually did business in the comfort of his chaotic work space.
I took a deep breath and leaned my ear against the wood.
“... Don’t mind that you came, what I mind is that it was unannounced.” My master was saying in a tone that struck me as furious.
“I will announce myself when I plan to come. All I know is that I felt urged to collect my due.”
“I paid my debt.”
I had the duster pressed against the door too and one of the feather’s caught my nose. I pulled away from the door to sneeze as quietly as possible, thus missing most of what my master said next.
Ah, I see you aren't happy about missing the importance of this conversation, but my fears were on perhaps a scandal my master had played a part in. I was worried about the ruin of his reputation. The talk of collecting a “debt” was not uncommon. My master was not very rich and owed quite a bit of people. If I had known the importance of the conversation, I would have chanced announcing my presence by sneezing against the wood.
When I was well and through, for the sneeze caused a muffled coughing fit, I pressed my ear against the door once more.
“... Not money!” The newcomer was saying, voice rising.
“Then what can I give you?”
“The one with the large green eyes.”
I fought to keep from bursting through the door, to slap the man and scream that he could not own a person, no matter how hard people tried to. But my master could handle his affairs. I had no right intruding on them.
“No. Lorelei stays with me.”
“You owe me…” here, my master was called by his given name, let’s strike it from the story.
I heard a muffled thump and drew away from the door, afraid they had caught me. Again, you are displeased at my flightiness. Pay no mind. Listen.
I returned to my post and caught the last few snippets of the doctor’s words, “... Won’t work.”
“And why not?”
“I have too much money.”
“Then take a painting. No charge.”
“I want the girl.”
Here, they quieted, but when I could discern their voices again, I was shook.
“... Can pass on my craft.”
I knew he was speaking of me. Though I hated painting, I was still good at it. And he tended to favor me. Even now, I flush at his regard for me.
“The bloody maid?”
“Take a wife if you want tiny painters. Give me the girl!”
“I cannot do that.”
I heard another thump and moved further away than before as a guttural cry followed it. My eyes widened, and I moved back towards the door, compelled to find out what that inhumane sound was.
But I wasn’t prepared.
I turned the brass knob and pushed open the door, shaking. The newcomer, the doctor, was standing over my master, blood splattering his white shirt. And my master lay by the door.
The doctor looked up, a thick blade in his hand, and made to seize me.
So I ran.
Lord, I ran.
I hefted my skirts and clutched my cap, thumping the stairs as I screamed for help.
“Silus!” I burst through the empty kitchen, shouts of rage following me from the doctor. “Silus! Lord! Please!”
I stumbled out the back door, trampling Cleft’s poppies clustering around the stairs, and made for the barn. Surely Silus was there feeding the mares!
But he wasn’t.
I stopped by the hayloft, breathlessly shouting, as the horses nickered and huffed around me. He wasn’t there either. I kicked up running again to the back of the barn where the opening was, but then stopped short. The doctor stood illuminated by the waning sun, light glinting off the silver blade dripping hot, sticky blood. He advanced, and I turned the other way, still screaming my pleas.
Where was everyone? The front porch was empty except for the baskets of peas, as was the drive. Only the carriage stood, the two horses tethered to it stomping their feet impatiently. I thought I saw the devil in them.
But that could be the ramblings of an old fool.
Or maybe not…
I continued down the drive, kicking up dust like the carriage had only a few minutes ago. It honestly felt like a lifetime since then.
“Lorelei?” Cleft came towards me, appearing from behind a thick bush with a pair of clippers in his hands, “what is it?”
I didn’t stop until I had grasped his arms, eyes wild with fear, “He killed him! He killed the master! He’s dead!”
Cleft shook me a little, “What are you talking about?”
“He’s right behind me!” I screamed, turning my head frantically.
Sure enough, the doctor was only a short way away. Gaining fast as he ran.
“Run to town, Lorelei,” Cleft gave me a push, but I clung tight to him. “Go now!”
“Come with me!” I pleaded, sobbing.
His eyes flashed anger, “Go now, Lorelei!”
The man was so close, too close, so I did what Cleft told me, running through more of his plants as I hit the road. It was deserted, but I didn’t stop.
I heard a cry behind me.
Cleft’s shriek pinged deep within me and I stopped, hands flying to my ears. Unfortunately, my sobbing in the road allowed the man to catch up with me. Fast. In moments, he had me by my apron.
“No!” I shrieked, fighting against him.
He jabbed blindly with his knife and managed to hit me in the thigh. It was a graze; I still have the scar. You want to see? Maybe later.
I continued to struggle, something that probably helped save me, since the man was older and less able to hold me tight. But I don’t think it would have been enough. If not for Silus.
He roared from behind us and; suddenly, the man fell forward, knocking me down. I hit the dirt with a thud and hurriedly brushed the man off of me, screaming all the time.
“Lorelei! It’s me!” Silus pulled me to my feet.
I blinked and stopped screaming, “Oh, Silus! He nearly killed me! But Cleft! What happened to him?”
Silus grimaced. Cleft hadn’t survived.
“They were on their way to town only moments ago.”
I felt my heart bumping tightly against my chest with relief and I collapsed against Silus, “What do we do?”
He sighed, “You go to the police in town, I will take care of the rest.”
And he did. I returned with the police and a wailing Lucy and Lark and he took things into his own hands. He answered most of the questions directed at me and handled the police rather obligingly.
But what of “Thornblithe”? Silus contacted the master’s lawyer after the funeral, someone who shall remain nameless, of course, and he gave us some surprising news.
I was present, being the one who was closest to the master, but the lawyer didn’t know my name and I sat away from Silus and him in the kitchen.
“I can see no relative still living that Homer wanted to give anything to. Save a young niece who was adopted, and she only gets a small sum.”
“And what about ‘Thornblithe’?” Silus prompted, looking anxious.
I sighed on my cup of tea and looked out the open back door. Fresh summer air was spilling in, and I could just make out the white cross that marked my master’s grave. No one had been present at the funeral, except his workers and the pastor. I was working towards making a new cross, whittled from an oak tree with nice curves and flowers. He would have wanted that, I think, but it never got finished. Don’t rush me; I’ll tell you why later on.
The lawyer fingered his papers and shrugged, “Well, I don’t know who she is but she isn’t family.”
“The person getting ‘Thornblithe’ you mean?”
I had settled into my chair at that point, tuning them out somewhat until I heard my name.
“What?” I started upwards, nearly spilling my tea.
The lawyer turned to me, the surprise on his face evident, “I didn’t call you.”
I looked to Silus for confirmation and saw he was white, “Yes you did.”
“What do you mean? I don’t even know her name.”
“Repeat that last part of the will.”
“‘The house of ‘Thornblithe’ to go to Miss Lorelei Listess at Homer’s request. Along with the fourteen acres of pasture and all his worldly possessions’.”
I let the words sink in and then respectably widened my eyes, “Wait… me?”
The lawyer frowned, “She is Lorelei?”
And that was when the cross fled my mind. How could I run a household and whittle a marker? Did I even want the house? Well, no. Not really. I had bad memories there, ones I despise wholeheartedly. But my master trusted me with his house.
Did I take it?
Yes. I am the current owner of “Thornblithe” and a very proud one at that. I still dream of death and bloody men with large knives, but I still stay. If only to watch over the remaining staff and poor Homer’s grave. Cleft, the man who may have saved my life, was shipped home to Ireland, where he is buried next to his sister.
And my master? Did he rest in peace? Well, any normal soul would say yes. But sometimes…
Sometimes I swear I can hear him humming in the pasture, his brush whispering over a canvas like a summer breeze.
And what of the doctor? He settles in an asylum, far from me and "Thornblithe". No one knows why he did it, so they settled on the fact that he's mad.
What do I believe?
I believe that the Devil himself came calling in the body of that doctor. And no one has disagreed with me yet.
But tell me; what do you believe?