“I’m hungry, Thomas.” Finch grumbled as she pouted her lips. They were now sitting under the big oak tree on the other side of the forest, far from where her oasis was located. Her stomach growled loudly.
Thomas, who was sitting next to her crossing his legs uncomfortably due to the wet ground, looked at her with concern. He did not bring anything from his home because his mother started to get suspicious of him selling the bread or the fruits to others, so he could have the money for himself. Usually, Thomas would bring Finch some foods that she could eat for he had been feeling nothing but concerned about her wellbeing.
“I told you, we need to go back to your house.” Said Thomas who was more persistent than before. “I can make something.”
Finch shook her head petulantly, refusing his offer. “Not now. I don’t wanna go back yet.”
Then suddenly an idea flashed on his mind, the one that made him grin just from thinking about it. The broad smile on his face got wider and wider. His eyes were lit with joy as if he just got a new toy. He had been knowing her for a while yet he never had a thought to invite her to the house, afraid of the questions that his mother would bombard him. But this time was different: it was like a perfect moment to bring her to the village. His mother could adopt her. It should be easy. He thought.
He got up from his sitting position, only to put his knees on the ground while he rested his hands on both knees as he leaned forward to view her face closer. Finch narrowed her eyes at him before hearing him spoke, “Do you want to go to the village? We can go to my house. My mother would be happy to see you. She cooks a lot of food.”
He was too busy with his own mind that he failed to notice Finch’s horrified expression. Her eyes were widened in fear. “No!” She shrieked in horror.
Thomas leaned away from her, surprised of Finch’s sudden change of emotion. The smile on his face faltered, replaced with confused expression. He studied her face that now looked frightened. Her lips were trembling as her eyes started to get watery.
“What happened?” He asked, whispering to her. “What’s wrong, Finch?”
She shook her head vigorously. Her tears ran down her cheek as she was sobbing. Her voice was shaking as she spoke, “I don’t want to go to the village, Thomas. I wanna stay in the forest.”
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.” Thomas cooed her, trying to calm her down. His hands were reaching out to Finch’s shoulder, rubbing her gently. “We don’t have to go to the village. We can stay here.”
“But I want to see others.” She admitted, still sobbing. Her voice was low. “Why don’t they come back here?” She had to refer to all of the boys that come to play hide and seek with her, when really she only refer to Edmond.
Hearing this, Thomas’ left eyebrow lifted up. He did not know she wanted to see others as well. She must be that lonely to expect them to come back to the forest.
“They’re not allowed to go to the forest by their parents.” Thomas told her. “Not all of us can go out of the house freely like William and I do.”
So Edmond must be not allowed to come to the forest either by his parents. Was his mother as scary as Mosley?
Finch wiped the tears away from her face with the back of her hands. She did not like to keep crying, not when she had a company that she enjoyed. She concentrated on what Thomas said now. Her watery eyes tried to focus on him.
“But William did not come today.” She tilted her head to the side as she was wondering if that was cause for William’s absence. “Is he not allowed to come anymore?”
Thomas shook his head. His hand patted her head consolingly. He did not like seeing Finch being sad. She was the happiest girl he had ever met and it made him happy to see her cheerful character, wandering around the forest by herself. He did not understand why she seemed to be a little bit emotional today. Maybe because he came so late and William did not come along with him, he guessed. He gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll come back. He’s just busy today.”
“Yes.” He nodded at her. Then he chuckled as he thought about William. “His father had assigned him a governess. He’s stuck at home today. Studying.”
“What’s that?” Asked Finch curiously.
“You don’t know what governess is?” Thomas widened his eyes, surprised that she did not know about it. But then he had been more surprised that she knew half of the world, even when she lived in the forest. Who taught her about things? Thomas wondered. He never really questioned it before. It was such a mystery of how the girl like Finch could live in the forest by herself. She looked like the normal girl in the village, except for her characters and her choice of clothes. She did not seem to be bothered by the rain that pour down all year round or the darkness of the forest in the night.
Thomas was a few months older than William and others. He often heard the stories or the news from either his parents or another adults about abandoned babies that were left in some places. Could Finch be one of them? He was curious about where she really come from. She might not be an educated child — neither was he — but she was well informed about everything. She could articulate things better than other children at her age.
After hearing no response from Finch, Thomas explained what governess was to her, using the most basic simple words. When he finished, he gauged Finch’s expression. “Do you get it now?”
Finch curled her lips up, showing her dislike towards the idea of having governess. Her eyes darted away from him to the the green forest in front of her. She then uttered in more steady voice, “Governess won’t let you play.”
Thomas bursted out laughing. His laugh was echoing in the whole forest. Finch smiled. Thomas noticed the change of expression on her face, which was happier. He awarded her with another smile.
“How come you don’t have a governess? You must be smart to not have your parents assign one for you.” She complimented him genuinely.
“I believe I am smart.” He agreed. He was feeling smug now. “I don’t need one. I can play as much as I want.”
“Really.” He laughed and she giggled.
To Finch, it was like she had known Thomas for a very long time. She could talk and listen to him all day long, knowing that she would be just happy to have his company. It might be the effect of being with no one else but Mosley for nearly a decade. She had grown up in isolation, believing that she would have to spend her life time in the forest by herself. Who knew that the destiny had its own plan.
But it was not the kind of plan that would free her from the forest. The thought of what she was going to turn to be if she did leave the forest, pricked her heart. She ran her hands onto her long blonde hair, grasping them loosely.
“Will you tell me why you were sad?” Thomas pleaded as he noticed the sadness behind her protruding eyes.
But Finch refused to tell him and put a smile of her face, asking him different questions about how the girls in the village looked like.
Thomas and Finch continued to sat and talked under the tree for the next few hours. The rain had stopped yet the grey clouds lingered. It was getting dark when Thomas realised that he had been staying in the forest longer than usual. He peered up to the sky, wondering if the rain would come back any time sooner. He then got up and raise both hands to the side of his hood, pushing it back until it fell on his back, revealing his black short hair that looked messy.
“I must leave before it rains again.” He announced.
“Okay. Will you come back tomorrow?” Finch sighed. She hoped he would. As if she could not hold her tongue anymore, she asked him the question that she had been wanting to ask. “Do you know where Edmond live?”
“Who?!” He exclaimed. It was not that he did not hear who Finch talked about. He heard her clearly. Too clear that he disliked Edmond some more.
“Edmond. Do you know where he live?” She repeated for him.
“You never asked me where I live.” He grumbled. His voice was taut with anger.
Finch frowned at him, confused with the change of the atmosphere between them. “Why are you angry?”
“I’m not.” He denied. “Why do you want to know about him? I’m not telling you until you tell me.”
“I like him.” She declared innocently.
If Thomas only disliked the boy before, he now abhorred him.
“I don’t know where he lives.” He lied. “He’s from another village which is far away.”
Somewhere deep in her mind, she knew he was lying. She wanted to argue with him and demand him to tell her the truth. Finch knew from the start that neither Thomas or William liked Edmond and she did not like it. What was wrong with Edmond? She thought.
Before Finch probed him any other thing about Edmond, Thomas quickly said goodbye to her and promised her he would come back tomorrow with William.
He turned on his heel and walked away from her, hoping to find the right direction towards the stream. He would love to have Finch lead him to his destination. But he could not bear listening to her interest in Edmond. How could she said she liked him when she only see him once? She must be joking. She was younger than Thomas. She did not know what she was doing, he figured internally.
The forest was so dark as the trees blocked all the remaining lights from the sky. Even so Thomas’ mind was fully occupied with his annoyance towards Edmond, ignoring the darkness around him. He did not pay attention to the direction that he took. He failed to notice that the trees ahead of him was moving from one side to another side, spreading a footpath in between the tress that led him out of the forest, down to the stream not far from the village where he lived. Soon, he stepped into a brighter space, which got Thomas astounded.
He stopped his feet from stepping further as he beheld the view in front of him, his dark eyes were bewildered. He could see the clear water flowed in the stream, skirting along the northern slopes of the hills where the houses at village were sited. His head turned around to gaze at the forest he just came out from, amazed that he could get out. It was not everyday he could walk out of the forest easily, not when he was only by himself.
Considering it as his good luck, he shrugged and carried on with his journey to home. He increased his pace for he started to feel cold and could not wait to get warm next to the fire place at his home.
Meanwhile, a family of tree sat together at the square dining table in their spacious house. They were enjoying their supper with the warmth radiated from the fire that was lit in the fire place not far from where they sat. A maid who was a middle aged woman, served the meal to each member of the family. She put a smile on her face as she ensured that everyone had enough meal on their plate, before she took a sit with them, eating the same meal on the same table. She did not work for a rich family but a middle class one. So she become the only one who managed everything at the house. It was uncommon for middle class family to have more than one servant at the house. But, one of the the good things about working with this family was they treated her no less than a family member.
“The stew tastes delicious, Ms. Jill?” The head of the house praised the maid.
Jill smiled at him, happy that he liked the stew she cooked. “I’m glad you like it, Sir Angus. But I won’t be convinced until your boys tell me what they think about the stew.” Her hazel eyes glanced at the boys who sat across from one another.
“I’m sure Neil and Edmond love it like I do.” Angus assured her. To confirm his statement, he asked his sons. “Isn’t that right, boys?”
“Yes, papa!” The boys answered at the same time.
Edmond turned his gaze at Jill who was now beaming with happiness. “I always love your food, Jill.”
“It’s Ms. Jill to you, Edmond.” Corrected Angus. Even though Jill was only a maid at his house after his wife deceased, Angus respected her as a person who was no below him but at the same level as him. He wanted his sons to treat everyone with respect regardless of their status.
“Sorry, Ms. Jill.” Edmond pouted. He lowered his head and continued eating his meal.
“That’s okay, Edmond. I’m not mad if you call me by my name.” She soothed him. Seeing Angus was about to protest, she said, “I don’t mind him calling me Jill, Sir.”
“I don’t want them to get used to it, Ms. Jill. I want them to learn proper manner while they were young like this. I heard the Mayor just hired a governess from the next village to teach his son. It would be good if I could hire one too for my boys. Hmm… maybe in a few months.”
“William got governess?” Neil was surprised with what his father just said. Even though William was the son the Mayor, he was not really into studying. He hated it and Neil knew it very well.
Angus nodded. “His father even asked me today if you would like to join him. He said your presence might help Will to be comfortable with the governess. You are his best friend, after all.”
“Will he and Thomas play again with us in the forest?” Inquired Edmond to Neil in a calm tone of voice, as if going to the forest was a common journey.
Neil glared at him.
His question got Angus stop eating immediately. He frowned at his young son who looked at him innocently with his round eyes. He looked back at him attentively.
“When did you go to the forest?” Angus’s voice was calm without any indication that he was going to be angry.
“Last week, Papa. I followed them into the forest and we play hide and seek. Finch said Thomas and Will visited her everyday in the forest. She is my new friend, Papa. I wanna see her again.”
There it goes, the little lion just spilled the bins. Said Jill in her own mind. She gazed at the older son of Angus who shot his brother a glare. For sure he was involved too. Then her eyes moved to Angus who was now furious. It was such a rare sight. Angus was never angry with his children. She stirred in her chair uncomfortably.
“Who is this Finch? And why do you, children, go to the forest?!” He fumed, causing Edmond to spill the stew onto his pants as he was about to spoon it into his mouth. Angus’ eyes now were on Neil who still glared at Edmond, making it obvious that he went to the forest as well. “You went there as well, didn’t you, Neil?”
Neil who could not stop glaring at his brother and was ready to hit him with anything within his reach, turned to his angry father. As soon as their eyes met, Neil lowered his head and looked down at his bowl. He was too scared to make eye contact with his father.
“Yes, Papa. But Thomas and William know the forest very well.” He explained, trying to reason with him.
“Unbelievable!” Angus shook his head in frustration. He had been believing that Neil was only playing with his friends in the field before the valley. “I shall tell the Mayor about this so he can build the fence to not let the children wander to the forest. This is not good!”
“But Finch is there, Papa.” Worried Edmond, only to receive another glare from both Neil and Angus.
“Who is Finch? I know no Finch in this village. And it’s a girl, you said? There’s no Finch in this village.” Angus finished his line with small bang on the table. He did not mean to hit the table to scared his son but he could not help it. He was so furious finding out that they had gone to the forest. Out of the place they could go around in Easton, they had to go to the most dangerous place on the land.
“She lives in the fo-,”
“Hush now! I do not want to hear anything about the forest anymore!” He waved his hand in the air as he ranted. “From now on you both are to stay at home and only go outside the house with either me or Jill accompanying you. Understood?!”
Neil fisted his hands under the table, mentally cursing his young brother for the punishment that his father given to them. Edmond just took his freedom away.