Eyes Cold Like Winter

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The Start of a New Life

Elise sat in the taxi ordered by her benefactor. Jean-Pierre Courbet, she thought to herself. If he was going to become the benefactor to someone less fortunate like myself, shouldn’t he choose someone who shares the same interest as him? Gazing out of the taxi window, Elise recalled how several days ago, she had agreed to become the ward of Jean-Pierre Courbet.

“His name is Jean-Pierre Courbet,” Mrs. Lindsay had told her. “He is the current president of the Courbet Pharmaceutical Company that has been passed through his family for generations.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Elise recalled saying. “I’ve seen him in newspapers and on the TV.”

“When you meet Mr. Courbet,” said Mrs. Lindsay. “remember to thank him. He has already made the arrangements for you to be picked up from this orphanage should you accept his offer. The taxi will pick you up on Tuesday after lunch at half-twelve in the afternoon. Make sure you are ready by then.”

“Mrs. Lindsay,” said Elise hesitantly. “thank you for looking after me until now. I will try my best to become a better person.”

“I’m sure good fortunes will come your way, Elise,” replied Mrs. Lindsay. “Now, what would you like to do for your leaving party?”

“I don’t want a leaving party,” said Elise quietly. “No one will care if I leave. Rather, they’d feel more relieved, now that the burden is gone.”

“Elise…” exclaimed Mrs. Lindsay softly as she watched Elise exit the office, closing the door gently behind her.

Glancing out of the taxi window, Elise spotted a sign indicating that they had arrived in the North York Moors. It was very hilly and compared to the quaint County Durham, the sun was no match for the clouds blanketing the sky. The windows were not opened, but Elise could already feel goose bumps on her skin.

“I’m surprised that a gadgie like Mr. Courbet decided to take you in,” said the taxi driver. “He’s been a widower for quite some time and his only son is his only successor. There’s been a lot of wondering of whether he’ll find himself another wife, but rumour has it that he randomly invites women to his manor and they leave having no recollection of visiting him.”

No recollection of visiting his manor. Thought Elise to herself. That definitely is strange. “Perhaps he hasn’t found the right person yet,” she suggested quietly, “as long as you love whoever you fall for and commit to them, age doesn’t matter.”

“There it is!” shouted the taxi driver ignoring Elise’s quiet response, “Wintervale Manor, Mr. Courbet’s residence. Grand manor for a rural area like this!”

Gesturing with one hand, he pointed towards a grand manor that was beginning to come into sight through the fog. Elise’s eyes widened in amazement. She had never imagined that her benefactor would live in a manor as big as the Bowes Museum back in County Durham. The taxi stopped at a pair of large iron gates and the taxi driver reached out to press the buzzer for the intercom.

“Hello?” came a deep voice with a slight French accent.

“I’m here to drop off Elise Benoit-Smith from the St. Jerome-Emiliani Orphanage in County Durham,” replied the taxi driver. “Shall I drive up?”

“Yes,” replied the voice. “Please do. I’m sure she is exhausted from her long journey.”

A loud buzzing sound followed as the iron gates slowly opened automatically. The taxi driver drove up the hill and into the front courtyard of the manor. The exterior looked centuries old, with shabby stonewalls, mansard tiled roofs, large windows, and projecting bays with engaged columns.

Elise clambered out while the taxi driver assisted her with her luggage. She didn’t have a lot of clothes growing up. They were usually hand-me-downs from former orphans who had left the orphanage once they reached adulthood, and some were donated from charity workers.

“Ah!” exclaimed the taxi driver when Elise reached into her handbag for her wallet, “You don’t have to pay the fare, Miss. Mr. Courbet has already paid in advance for your journey.”

So he did arrange everything in advance, thought Elise in bewilderment. Maybe he’s not a bad person after all. Picking up her luggage, Elise walked towards the large doors as the taxi drove away. She knocked on the door and was surprised when it creaked open. Entering the manor, Elise was amazed by the interior. The high ceilings with several chandeliers to brighten up the entrance hall, the wooden floors to the grand carpeted staircase, the velvet curtains and portraits of predecessors hanging on the walls.

“Welcome to Wintervale Manor Elise,” said the same voice she heard through the intercom.

Elise looked up to find a tall man who looked in his late thirties. His hair was silver grey, but the features that stood out were his amber eyes. He wore a black business suit that seemed old-fashioned as though he had travelled in time.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Mr. Courbet,” said Elise bowing her head respectively. “Thank you for taking me on as your ward.”

“The pleasure is all mine Elise,” replied Mr. Courbet. “Now I shall formally introduce myself. I am Jean-Pierre Courbet, the president of the Courbet Pharmaceutical Company. Let us continue our introductions in the living room. I will have my butler, Jervis bring your luggage to your room, and my maid Esmé to prepare afternoon tea.”

Elise jumped in surprise when Jervis seemingly appeared out of nowhere to take her luggage. Brushing it off, she followed Mr. Courbet to the living room. As they walked through the hallway, Elise could not help but notice how all the ancestral portraits seemed to resemble her benefactor. Entering the living room, there was a burning fireplace, fine furnishings, more paintings, and antiquaries displayed in glass cabinets or propped on the furniture.

“Please have a seat,” said Mr. Courbet as he gestured to one of the sofas. “There is much more to be discussed.”

Elise sat down on the sofa. The warmth from the fireplace drained the coolness on her skin since arriving in the North York Moors. The maid, Esmé brought in the traditional afternoon tea set on a trolley. As she poured the tea, Mr. Courbet continued his conversation.

“I understand how alarming it must have been for you when I decided to take you on as my ward,” he told Elise. “I saw potential in an individual as yourself when an acquaintance of mine showed me your short story entry. He is a university professor who ran a writing competition several months ago. Although the winner still has not been decided, I was very intrigued by your story and illustrations which led me to do a background check on you.”

“So all of this was because of that one short story?” asked Elise.

“I also had a look on your blog and you have written amazing stories which have touched many people’s hearts,” continued Mr. Courbet. “There are a lot of people in this world who struggle to find acceptance among a group of peers. Your desire to be acknowledged for yourself shows through both your writing and illustrations. People who have visited your blog will have a sense of relief that there is at least someone out there who can relate to them, understand their struggles and drive to become the person they truly want people to see them as.”

“That is very flattering Mr. Courbet,” said Elise. “I never imagined that a person like you would think so highly of someone like me.”

“It would be unfair for you, as a talented individual to remain in St. Jerome-Emiliani Orphanage until adulthood,” said Mr. Courbet. “According to the orphanage director Mrs. Lindsay, you have lived there since you were barely two-years-old.”

“Yes,” replied Elise, “that’s what I have been told.”

“I will now outline the details of what I have planned for you,” said Mr. Courbet as he took a sip of tea. “But before that, why don’t you help yourself to some of the cakes? You must be hungry, and don’t worry about manners.”

Elise reached out for a strawberry shortcake that she had been eyeing for a while. It was completely different from the desserts she had at the orphanage. The cafeteria would usually serve decent, but stale cakes with custard sauce as an additional compliment. Biting into the shortcake, Elise was stunned to taste a smooth and spongy texture of the cake along with the sweetness of the cream and strawberries.

“In this manor,” said Mr. Courbet. “The curfew is ten o’clock for everyone. Including the servants working here.”

“That early?!” exclaimed Elise.

“Yes,” he replied. “Everyone needs his or her rest. And I have been told that you were born with asthma, which is sometimes a nightly occurrence, or due to stress or physical activity. However, I am sure that the fresh air here in the North York Moors will improve your health over time. The nearest town is Whitby; a seaside town, which is a twenty-minute bus ride from here. The bus comes once every half an hour and I have already arranged for your bus card.”

“You’re being unbelievably generous Mr. Courbet!” exclaimed Elise, “Isn’t that a bit too much?”

“Not at all!” replied Mr. Courbet, “This is because starting next Monday, you will be attending Our Lady of Sorrows Secondary School with a full scholarship. Hence why you need a bus card to travel. You can also use the card to travel into Whitby if you ever wish to visit the town during the weekends or the school holidays.”

“Mr. Courbet-!” began Elise, only to be interrupted when the doors of the living room burst open and a teenage boy who looked around her age entered.

“Father!” shouted the boy, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to have a visitor today?”

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