9 Years Later
I had another dream about her last night. Her voice, soft as heaven, cooed from the foot of my bed. "Rod...Roderick." I would not have woken for any other person, but her voice lulled me from my sleep.
I drowsily opened my eyes, sleep fogging my vision. The white sheets and pillows cradled my body as if I were surrounded by a cloud. They were cool against my skin, although the air was hot and still. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep, but my greatest love overpowered this selfish longing.
She was standing there, at the foot of the bed, as sweet as always; standing there in a little lavender dress that reached to her knees over thick white stockings and shoes, her hands clasped in front of her, her brown braids tied with ribbon, her blue eyes sparkling. Softly smiling. She looked just as she had the day we had parted.
"Roderick..." she said again.
My heart filled with my longing for her. Just from hearing her voice, it had multiplied by millions of times. "Lila."
She smiled, larger this time. "Rod, where are you?"
"I..." I frowned. "...I don't know. Somewhere I don't want to be, I grant you. I'd rather be in this nice, cool bed forever. Where I've come from...I don't want to go back."
She looks at me mutely, as if she can't really understand what I'm talking about. But then again, I'm not even sure what I'm talking about. All I know is that Lila is here, standing by me.
"Roderick, where did you go?"
I shake my head. I don't understand. "I don't know, Lila."
"No, you've just forgotten." Lila smiles, a bit sadly this time. "But you could always come back." She puts one little hand on the bed. "Rod, please come back. I'm afraid you've forgotten."
"Come back, Rod. Please come back."
And as she's standing before me, I begin to forget. The color of her dress turns indiscernible, her ribbons too...and then her eyes. What color were her eyes? She is fading here, right before me.
"Lila," I call. "Lila!"
But she only fades more and soon I am left alone, with only the memory of her sad smile to give me company.
I suddenly jerked awake. Blinking the sleep out of my eyes, I realized I was no longer in the large, cool bed and Lila was no longer in sight. Instead I was sitting in my uncle's carriage. I immediately felt uncomfortable as one does when knowing they're being watched. I also felt the tension of not knowing what to say to him.
I cleared my throat, sitting up properly. "Thank you again, Uncle, for bringing me to Garfield Manor."
"Oh it's nothing, boy," my Uncle Bayard said in his oily voice. It seemed to me that everything about my uncle was oily, from his hair to his manner of speaking. I couldn't help but feel uneasy whenever I was in his presence. "Your father had specifically stated in his will that if he and the wife of his-"
"Adeline," I interjected. After my mother had died when I was not even five years old from a disease of the lungs, my father had taken his second wife in the form of the beautiful and sweet Adeline Cartwright. Although she had been young and childlike, she had become the most motherly figure in my life. She deserved to be remembered properly.
"-yes, Adeline," Uncle Bayard corrected himself. "The will stated that if he and Adeline were both to die, that you would inherit the manor in his stead. It is my pleasure to accompany you." He gave Rod a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and the carriage was engulfed in silence once again.
The cab jolted on.
"And how is your brother?" Uncle inquired.
I thought of my younger brother Ben, who had inherited both a handsome face from Adeline as well as my father's intelligence. "He's well. He likes his school in London very much. He'd rather stay there than come with me just now."
"And is he a good student there?"
The carriage prattled over a bump in the road, rattling the luggage overhead.
"And were you a good student as well?"
Something tricked in the back of my mind: study-less nights, scrawled assignments and language spoken only among sailors. I had never enjoyed school as my brother did. Ben enjoyed every bit of it, from making friends in his classes to learning each and every subject. But I had been eager to graduate and be finished with my studies forever. I cocked my head slightly and shrugged. "Yes." May God cast out a liar.
"I'm sorry that you won't be able to attend a university. But you will be glad to learn that there's an entire library in the manor. I'm sure your father would have liked for you to utilize it." Uncle smiled his oily grin, as if the library was the solution to all.
"Thank you, Uncle." I looked down at my hands. "Are there many people at the house?" Memories of the crowded rooms and hallways bursting with voices overcame me as I recalled my father's house in London. Already, the memories felt a lifetime ago.
Uncle shook his head. "There are more than two dozen servants and stable keepers, but they stay confined in their own quarters of the house."
God help me.
The rainy skies and hills of green seemed to crowd the path our carriage was trundling along. "Is the house in a place like this?"
"Yes, it's in the countryside. It's quite large, with miles and miles of land. You'd have to walk for a good few days before you'd see another soul. Take my word for it and don't try."
"I like walking." Maybe it was just me, but I felt as if the carriage was closing in around me. The black was threatening. "I like it much better than riding in dark, crowded carriages." My eyes widened and I looked at Uncle, exclaiming, "No offense meant, Uncle. You're carriage is very nice, I just...I didn't mean anything by it..."
Uncle forced a smile. "None taken. But I must warn you, you could get yourself into some kind of trouble with that tongue of yours. You should learn to control it."
Uncle Bayard leaned forward in his seat to look out the window. "Ah, yes. We'll be arriving soon." He leaned back and studied my face carefully. "Now, I must inform you of the rules of the house house, which your father instated and must be obliged by, do you understand?" I nodded. "Firstly, I shall be gone on business much of the time. I can't be worried about the manor. It will be your duty to stay and take care of it. Do you understand? Don't leave the property."
"And when you're there? Will I be able to leave?" The situation was feeling more like a prison every moment.
"When I'm there, you will be much too busy to leave. There will be parties and cotillions and such. There will be no time for vacations. You don't leave the house, understand?"
I hesitated, staring at him. As much as I would hate being out of communication with others, I very well couldn't defy my father's will. "I understand." Internally, I melted.
The carriage rolled along the pathway, jolting all the same in a rhythmic pattern. Then suddenly...
"Is that it?" I asked, pointing out the window. "Is that the house?" It was a Gothic mansion in light stone, rising up from the green meadows like a triumphant cathedral.
"No," replied Uncle, very shortly.
"But I thought you said that we were near your house..."
"I most certainly did."
I frowned. "And you also said that someone would have to walk for days to see another soul."
Uncle paused. "I did say that."
"But then why..." I began.
"That house is abandoned," Uncle cut me off. "No one lives there, so don't you go poking around."
I leaned slightly to see the house better. "There's a horse and carriage at the abandoned house?" I raised my eyebrows at my uncle, not trusting him for a moment.
Uncle discreetly looked out the window and saw what I did: a carriage by the rear of the light house and a horse grazing nearby. "I suppose an old man lives there or something of the sort. Anyhow, it much doesn't matter. You aren't to go around there, am I clear?"
I settled back into my seat. "Yes, very clear."
"And you must know never to leave our property. Always stay close to the house. When inside the house, keep to your own rooms. The servants don't need you underfoot. Understand?"
Sighing, I nodded. "Yes."
Uncle sat back in his seat, looking quite agitated. He nodded towards the outside. "That is the house."
I eagerly sprung to look at my new home. Like the light stone house, it was a Gothic sort of style, only built with dark stone. It loomed a full five stories out of the hills. It reminded me of the castles in the knights-and-barbarian stories that Adeline had told me when I was younger, the kinds with drawbridges and fire-breathing dragons guarding the moats.
"Finally," sighed Uncle. "Here at last."
It may have looked like a picture out of a story book, but it certainly didn't look like a home to me.
First I lost Lila, then Adeline, and then my father. I couldn't bear to imagine what could happen next.
I was hoping that you would be able to come to the manor for the summer months, but Uncle tells me that you have decided to stay at school and finish up a few courses instead of coming home. I admire your decision, but at the same time I'm disappointed that you won't be here. I can tell you that I'm desperate for some company. It's been two weeks and I've scarcely been spoken to. There are no neighbors and the staff hardly seems friendly. It gets quite lonesome.
On the other side of conversation, I have to say that the manor is beautiful. All I can see when I look out my window are acres and acres of rolling grasses and shady trees. Even when it rains, the land still holds an air of beauty that I can't describe in words. You'll have to come home soon and see it yourself.
You can expect quite a few more (boring, I'm sure) letters from me. It helps pass the time. I hope you're being a good student, far better than I ever was.
Your brother Roderick.
I sealed the letter and placed it on my desk. The maids always took my letters down to the post when they cleaned his room, though I was never entirely sure that they were actually sent to my brother, for I had never received a response. But then again, Ben was a very busy young man. Maybe he'd just had more important things to do.
I sighed and sat down on the window ledge, looking out onto the property. Sometimes, when the wind was high and the trees were blowing, I could catch a glimpse of the white house's peak from between the leafy branches. But today everything was still, dark, and rainy.
"Good afternoon, sir!"
I turned back in surprise. A member of the staff had never greeted me in such a way. Coming through my doorway was a small little thing in a maid's uniform, carrying a lunch tray. She had red curls and a lilting accent. She smiled broadly.
"I'm Nora. I'll be your own maid while you're staying 'ere at the 'ouse," she said cheerily, setting the tray she held on my table. "I'm afraid I 'aven't been here to wait on you for the past couple o' weeks. You see, my sister just had a baby and me and me mum were busy 'elping 'er get the little thing settled in. The 'ouse mother 'ere, Mrs. Marcus, she knew about it and said I could be with them for a little while. But now I'm back, your own personal maid." She bobbed into a little curtsy, as if she secretly thought she were a grand mistress.
"Hello," I greeted her, coming down from the window. "I'm Roderick. It's nice to meet you."
"And you as well!" Nora nodded to a few balled-up shirts thrown on my desk chair. "Will that be your dirty laundry? I'll take care of that, and turn out your bed while you're out and about today. No need to keep your dirty laundry on chairs when they could be clean and put in your drawers!" She chucked to herself and began to tuck the shirts over her arm. "Would you like me to set out some clothes for you as well? Put on some nice, crisp collars before you go out today?"
"I wasn't exactly planning on going out, Nora," I said regrettably. "I actually never really leave the house. My uncle discouraged me from doing so. So I really won't need all of that done. But thank you," I hurriedly added, as I watched her face drop.
"You mean you don't go outside?" Nora exclaimed, as if this were the most incredible thing she had ever heard. "What's the point o' livin' on the moors if you don't go out and enjoy them once in a while?"
"I would love to go see the moors, I really would," I persisted. "But I don't think I'm supposed to...and I don't want to make my uncle angry with me."
"Pch," Nora scoffed. "Look at you! All grown up! You are an adult now! By the time me brother Tommy was your age, he was already gettin' married and movin' out of the 'ouse!" She took Roderick by the arm and pushed him toward the wardrobe. "You pick yourself somethin' nice and clean to wear to go outside. Me and the other maids and manservants won't tell a soul that you left for a while...your Uncle is out of town! He won't even know for a minute!"
"I would still feel badly going off the grounds when he told me not to..."
"Then don't!" Nora cried. "Just walk the grounds, get some air. By the time you come back, I'll have made your bed and washed your clothes and posted this letter!" Nora pocketed the letter for Ben. "Just go, Mister Roderick! Everybody needs some freedom!"
I grinned for what felt like the first time in weeks. "Thank you, Nora!" I quickly pulled on the clean white shirt she handed me and slipped into some old brown boots. Grabbing an apple from the tray Nora had bought, I waved her goodbye and nearly ran out the door.
I couldn't stop smiling from the very minute I stepped outside. The day wasn't bright-in fact, it was rather wet and dreary. But I didn't care. This was the first time I had been outside since arriving at the manor and it was even better than I had imagined it, while sitting at my bedroom window looking out. Dew from the vividly green grass wet my boots and sporadic raindrops fell onto my shoulders. I rolled my sleeves up to my elbows, feeling the glorious coolness and humidity on my forearms. The air couldn't have smelled better-like flowers blooming and fresh grass. It smelled just the way it had when Lila and I picked a bouquet of flowers for her grandmother's birthday so long ago...
Lila. I had never stopped wondering about her these entire nine years. I sighed as my distance from the house grew. I was walking without a particular destination in mind. The rolling green hills seemed endless, a stone wall the only barrier between our lawn and the rest of the world. Where in the world could Lila be now, I wondered. When we had left India in such a hurry so many years ago, I had never even thought to get her address in the commotion. I had on more than one occasion thought to look in the London records for her to see if she was living in the city, or perhaps still in France. I remembered her last name-I remembered her full name-Delilah Jane Oliver. But the last I knew she had still been living with her grandmother, who had a different surname.
Did she think of me as often as I did her? Did she even remember me, let alone think about me? We had spent so much time together in India, true friends. She had been my best friend and such an important part of my childhood. What if she didn't remember it, too? Running a hand through my light brown hair, I frowned. Sometimes I thought of Lila when I couldn't sleep at night. I pictured how she might look now, as a young lady. In my daydreams, the ones of us reuniting, she's always wearing the same white dress and her hair is long, with lots of curls. I wasn't even sure Lila's hair was curly-I had only ever seen her hair loose from her braids once, and it was tangled and messy. But in my daydreams, Lila always had long curly, hair. She's tall and had the face of a grown lady-arched eyebrows, thin cheeks and a high brow. In my dreams she always had an elegant voice and a pretty little laugh.
In my dreams.
I sighed again and kicked at the sod. Wherever Lila was, I hoped she was having a better life than I was.