This is a story written in spilled lamplight on the wavering ripples of an old and mossy fountain . . .
The Pilgrim Woman checked for stragglers on the cold sands outside the lone chapel, then shut its ancient door. With rolled-up rug in place to block the draughts, she put another log on the fire. Her audience drew close.
‘A cheerful tale is needed, please’ said a worn-faced woman. A servant from the grand house, she’d been sent to check if the Pilgrim Woman had paid her peppercorn story rent.
‘Short and sweet it shall be,’ the Pilgrim Woman answered. Then she spread out her skirts, held a folded piece of paper as if it were lace and ivory and began:
The clamour in the ballroom was simply too much to be borne, thought Belle.
‘Mamma – the heat!’ she said and agitated her fan. ‘I must have air.’
‘Very well – but do tuck your fichu in. We cannot have you catching a chill.’
Belle did as she was told. Her excuse was partially the truth: the heat from all those bodies in the ballroom – and the smell. Over-worn dresses, mixed stale perfumes, horse and worse. She gathered up her wide and awkward skirts and slipped out through the porch.
Beside the columns, the flambeaux had burnt down but their gleam still spangled the fountain. She took a a deep breath in on the steps. Coolness and fir trees and sheep calmed her. Night damp soothed her cheeks and the dew on her hot skin gave its blessing.
Her fine shoes crunched on the gravel of the coach drive. She ought to stay on the Ladies’ Walk . Green mould on satin would not be well received by Mamma. She had gone to such effort to see that her daughter was at least presentable.
Belle skipped away from the Manor entrance and along the terrace. Remains of the summer bedding drooped heavy with water, starlit and gleaming. Two owls called from the Arboretum. She cupped her hands as the carriage lad had shown her. After three breathy tries, a true hoot came out. One of the owls replied.
Belle grinned at the constellations and span round in a giddy whirl, heedless of decorum. This was her world. Alone. Outside. Magical.
Of course, she would have to go back in. She turned, reluctant, then enchanted. Gold and ruby drops of light jewelled the slumped delphiniums. They fell from the window of the grand staircase.
Dum Spiro, Spero she read backwards on the stained glass. While I breathe, I hope.
The thought sustained her until her next and permanent escape.
With thanks to Rhosygilwen Manor for the inspiration.