In one fine morning, the sound of a carriage halted in front of the Mayor house was heard, making the maid — who was cleaning the front window’s glasses — peeked from behind the curtains. She immediately went to the front door, to greet whoever the person was.
A woman, wearing a simple plain blue dress and a long brown coat, descended down from the carriage. Her coachman stood right by the carriage’s door, ready with the umbrella opened for his mistress. He walked his mistress to the front balcony, holding the umbrella over the woman. When he was assured that his mistress was safe from the pouring rain, he retreated himself back to the carriage and closed the umbrella, ignoring the fact that he himself was drenched in the rain.
“Good morning, Ms. Bell,” Greeted the maid to the newly arrived guest, bowing her head. She knew who the lady was, as she had encountered with her two days ago. Emma Bell was none other than the governess of Master William, the Mayor’s only son.
“Good morning. Is Mr. Graham present?” Emma inquired, her hands unconsciously went to her red hair that pulled back into a ponytail, ensuring that her hair was all in the right place. Her grey eyes eyed the maid up and down, studying the maid’s petite figure.
“Yes, Milady. I would inform your arrival to him. Meanwhile, please wait in the parlour.” She showed the lady the way to the parlour and asked her if she would like to have something to drink while she was waiting for her Master.
Instead of taking a sit on the couch, Emma decided to walk around the room, admiring the paintings that was displayed on the wall. Most of them were pictures of the scenery from different places around the world. Emma was aware of the Mayor’s interest in travelling the world. She was amazed with the tranquility that was shown in each painting. She envied the man for having the opportunity to travel the whole world.
Working as a governess for more than five years in most of the town in Easton, Emma had gained an excellent reputation among society. Her capability in educating children had been nothing but successful. Her family’s status was arisen by her accomplishments. She was showered with money and praises which quite satisfying to herself. As ambitious as she seemed might be, she was the type of a woman who always appreciated what she had.
Notwithstanding her successful career, which gave her a privilege to encounter with many of respected and reputable bachelors, Emma had not as yet given or been asked to give her hand to marriage. Her status as an unmarried woman had been quite an issue recently.
“Ms. Bell.” Hearing her name was called from the door, Emma turned her gaze away from the painting to face the man in a blue suits walking towards her. He smiled and reached his right hand out for Emma to shake which she happily took it. “It’s a surprise to see you here today. I didn’t expect your visit. Is there an important matter you would like to discuss?”
“I apologise for my unexpected arrival, Mr. Graham.” He gestured Emma to take a sit on the couch as he sat in front of her on an armchair. “But I heard that the Council would build a school for children under 15 years old in the abandoned land next to the river.”
“Are you interested to be one of the teachers in the school when it’s done?” Mr. Graham’s interjected, chuckling. “If you come because of this, you don’t have anything to be worried about. I have put your name on the very top of the list for the teacher’s candidate.”
“Thank you, Sir. I’m very delighted to hear that.” Emma bowed her head slightly as a gesture of thanks, smiling. But the smile did not reach her eyes in which the Mayor noticed.
“Is there something else, Ms. Bell?” His eyes skimmed through the woman’s nervous figure.
Since hearing the news, Emma had been gathering her strength and courage up to confront the council in relation to their plan to build the school in the abandoned land. For more than a decade, the council had strictly banned all people to occupy the five hundred square metres land for any purpose, not even to step on it. They build a perimeter fence with a clear sign to not enter the land, keeping people away from there.
It was for a reasonable reason that the council banned people from occupying the land, following the horrible tragedy that occurred twelve years ago. The survivors and witnesses of that incidents had determined to bury the memories in their deepest mind, sealing their lips from uttering a word about it. But there she was, ready to open an old wound most people tried to forget.
“As you might be aware that my family and I were one of the survivors of the that forgotten incidents. My father and I would like to complain to the council’s plan as we’re not even given the notice for what they’re going to do in that land.” Emma explained.
The reason why she came to the Mayor instead of going to the Council to discuss the matter, was because she thought the Mayor would be able to understand better about her intention. She was aware that she was using her brilliant ability as governess to sharpen the brain of Mr. Graham’s only son. He needed her and she needed him.
The Mayor’s body stiffened as he heard what the governess had uttered. A grim expression was shown on his face. He stared at her sternly. His voice was hoarse as he spoke. “I don’t think I can help you with that. You will have to take it to the higher ups as that issue is out of my hand.”
A different maid enter the room, bringing a tray of sweets and drinks for both the guest and the Mayor. When the maid was about to hand a glass of apple juice to Emma, the Mayor suddenly interfere, stopping the maid from giving the drink away.
“I think our guest is leaving, Maddy. She won’t be needing to have the drink. You can bring it back to the kitchen.”
Emma froze. She was beyond displeased with a sudden dismissal the Mayor did to her. She was utterly feeling embarrassed and offended by him. She had come here to discuss the matter diplomatically with the Mayor and had hoped to find a good result. But instead, she got disrespected.
The maid was sensing the tense between her master and the governess. She quickly bowed her head to both the mayor and the lady before she exited the room, afraid that her master would lash on her if she stayed there for another second.
“You know the way out, Ms. Bell.” The Mayor spoke, waving his hand to the door.
Forgetting about her own manner, Emma got up from her seat and stomped off the room, going to her carriage that was parked on the left side of the house. Her anger had her to ignore the rain that was still pouring. She called her coachman who was leisurely enjoying a cigarette under the shed of the stable.
Seeing his mistress in the rain, he threw the cigarette away and ran to the woman who looked infuriated. What happened to her? He was sure that his mistress was fine when he dropped her off at the front door of the Mayor house.
“We’re leaving now.” She spluttered, opening the door by herself and going inside the carriage.
Inside the house, in a study room, the Mayor saw the carriage leaving his premise through the window. His eyes kept on watching the carriage until it disappeared from his sight. He then sighed in relief, knowing that woman was away. He moved away from the window and walked over to his desk. He was just about to sit down on his chair when a knock was heard on the door.
“Come in.” He spoke.
The door was opened slightly and a dark hair woman stepped into the room. Seeing his wife coming, the mayor told her to close the door and gesture her to sit. She did what he said. When she turned at him, her green eyes noticed the frustration on the Mayor’s face.
“What did Ms. Bell want from you, Gilbert?” She asked curiously. “Will thought that he had a session with her today.”
“Something that she was not supposed to bring up.” Replied the Mayor. “I’m afraid she is not the only one. There would be more people like her coming.”
“Here?” The woman’s eyes widened, imagining people coming to their house.
“No, dear. I won’t let them come here.” He assured his wife. “What I meant, Sybil, is they’re going to come to the council.”
“Was it about the abandoned land?”
“What else?” He retorted.
Sybil snorted. “I knew that land would cause troubles. It should have just stayed abandoned like it’s supposed to be. What did the council really think that they plan to build the school there? As if there was no other land in the whole Easton.”
Gilbert gave long weary sigh. His hands were clasped together under his chin as both side of his elbows rested on the table. His voice sounded tired as he spoke, “It’s a complicated matter, Sybil.”
“I know, my dear.” Sybil got up and walked over to her husband’s chair. She put one hand on his shoulder as she bent down to kiss his head. “I wish they never survived.”
Her husband leaned in to her touch. He put one arm on her hips, pushing it closer to him as he pressed his head against her abdomen. “They’ll take care of it.”
In another room at the Mayor house, William got himself ready to go outside. He put his raincoat on and pull the hood on. One of his hands carried a small basket while the other hand held an umbrella that was wide opened, hovering above his head. Telling his maid that he would be going to Thomas’s house, William left the house.
He took a shortcut to get to Thomas’s house, passing the busy market and his father’s office. Knowing that his father was at home, he walked confidently. He would smile at some people who recognised him politely. His pace was steady and calm. But mentally, he was rushing towards Thomas’s house that was not far from the market.
“Will!” A voice called him. He stopped walking to turned his head around, seeking for the person who just called him. When he did, he turned sour.
“Are you going to the forest?” Edmond, who spotted William walking in the crowd, sneaked out of his father’s stall and followed him. Unable to catch William’s pace, Edmond decided to call him out, catching his attention.
“What are you doing here, Edmond? Go back to your father.” William snapped at him, showing his dislike towards the boy.
“I wanna come to the forest with you.” The boy inched closer to William.
“You can’t!” He snarled. This caused a few people to gaze at them. Their eyes were curious.
“I’ll tell your Papa.” Learning from Neil, Edmond used the same trick to threaten William.
The Mayor’s son gripped the umbrella harder. His knuckles went white. How dare this little boy to threaten him. William wanted to pull another trick onto the boy but he was unsure if that would stop the boy from telling his father. None of his parents knew that he had been going to the forest with Thomas.
“Fine! Follow me.” He turned on his heel, angrily, but continued walking towards Thomas’s house.
Edmond grinned and followed William silently behind him. I did it! He shouted in victory inside his mind.
Right at the corner end of the road from the market, Thomas stood against the wall. His raincoat was way too long that it swept the ground, covering his boots. Unlike any other day, he pulled his hood back, showing off his beautiful black hair that was combed neatly. To keep his head dry, he had his umbrella open over his head. His dark eyes sought for his friend, sweeping from one side to another side.
Thomas promised William that he would wait for him at his house. But he could not just sit idly at home waiting for him. The suspense killed him. He could not wait to go to the forest. He knew that William would take a shortcut to get to his house. So he stood there, waiting for him.
Minutes passed, Thomas’s eyes finally caught the sight of William walking towards him. He waved his hand at him, smirking.
“Good that you came earlier than I thought. I just couldn’t wait-,” Thomas paused as he caught a glimpse of a short boy behind William. He tilted his head to the side. His eyes widened when he identified who the short boy is. He looked up at William who bore a sour expression. “What’s he doing with you?”
“He saw me. And decide to follow me.” William muttered.
“Why?!” Wailed Thomas. He then looked down at Edmond who kept hiding behind William’s back for he was scared of Thomas. “Go back to your house, Edmond!”
“No!” He protested. “I wanna see Finch.”
“She doesn’t want to play with you, you idiot! Go back home. I’ll tell your Papa.” Thomas pulled Edmond’s arm so he could come forward and face his rage.
Edmond groaned as got pulled. He wiggled his arm away from Thomas’s rough grip. “I’ll tell your Papa, too.”
“See that?” William pointed his finger at Edmond as his eyes were on Thomas. “He told me he’s going to tell my father as well. That’s why I let him follow me.”
“We’ll not be in trouble if you tell our fathers, idiot!” Lied Thomas. He twisted Edmond’s arm not too rough but enough to make Edmond yelped in pain. “Go home now! Don’t follow us!”
He let go of Edmond and pushed him to the ground. He gestured William to start going, leaving Edmond sitting on the ground rubbing his arm that got twisted by Thomas.
“Are you okay, boy?” A stranger voice was heard behind Edmond, making him turn his head around and peer at the person.
Instead of responding the person’s question, Edmond widened his eyes in horror as he saw the person’s face. The person’s eyes were all white and look soulless. The hair of the person was as white as the eyes and as pale as the skin. The person’s cheeks were hollow. Edmond thought that he saw a living ghost with white eyes.
He blinked his eyes rapidly, hoping the person in front of him would disappear but the person was still there. “Who are you?”