Note: This is a short story I wrote as a college freshman. My choice of genre was influenced by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. It’s not the best fiction I’ve done, but I am considering adapting it into a novel or a screenplay.
By Kenneth Kerns, on 15th of September 1999
A flash of lightning lit up the yard as she approach the Mackenzie mansion. This slender young woman of neatly curled, walnut hair was walking quickly to the famed house for fear that she may be late for her interview with the Duke Mackenzie, owner of the mansion and father of her likely new pupils. She extended her hand out from underneath her umbrella and felt a few raindrops hit against it.
“I better get inside soon, or I’ll catch a dreadful cold,” she thought.
Her pace picked up a bit as she tried to cover the expansive front yard as quickly as possible. It took her several minutes, but she finally reached the entrance to the mansion, all without looking too flushed or ragged, a state of affairs she definitely did not want the Duke to see her in.
After catching her breath, she knocked on the door, just as another clash of lightning lit up the area and thunder came crashing through, announcing the arrival of a terrible thunderstorm. A long pause soon followed, broken only when a butler opened the door, and motioned her inside.
“The master is busy at the moment, but you may wait for him in the library,” the tall domestic worker said in a low, Italian accent that reminded her of her Sicilian uncle. Her uncle spent much of his time with the Church in Rome, and she missed him. The butler showed her to the door of the library and then hurried off to attend to his duties in another part of the fairly large house.
Simultaneously with her opening of the library’s doors, a flash of lightning lit up the windows on the other side of the wide room and a booming pound of thunder broke the silence of the mansion. The prospective governess slowly walked to the center of the ovular library, in awe of the shear amount of books. As she twirled around, she noticed a lively fire in the fireplace, keeping the room well-lit on its own. Above the mantle of the fireplace was a large painting of, presumably, the Duke, sitting at the very same library, next to his first wife.
It was known by many in the town nearby the Duke’s first wife died of an illness shortly after the Duke began having a somewhat public affair with a previous governess. Fortunate for this prospective governess, he had been happily married to his second wife, who was also that governess, for more than 15 years and had three children by her.
The lightning and thunder began appearing more rapidly as the storm approached the Mackenzie mansion. Noticing a slight draft in the room, she moved closer to the fireplace to warm her hands, and take a closer look at the books on the shelf.
Startled by the entrance of another individual, she turned to the person who addressed her. “And you are?”
“Lucy Mackenzie, the Duke’s oldest daughter.”
“I’m so sorry. Pardon my lack of manners, my lady,” Ms. Davenport insisted. She then curtseyed the noble family member.
“No need. I shouldn’t have surprised you like this, Ms. Davenport. It’s just that Father is busy attending to Mother.”
“What’s wrong with Lady Mackenzie?”
“She’s been dreadfully sick with a high fever and a terrible cough,” said a no doubtedly saddened young woman.
“It is. Father asked me to tell you that you may start tomorrow, if you promise to keep out of the way of him and the doctors.”
“Definitely. Anything else?”
“Robert, our head butler, will show you to your room.”
Miss Davenport, looking relieved but concerned, turned to leave the library, but Lucy reached for her arm, and lightly touched it. “There is something else you should know.”
After a pause to gauge the governess’ reaction to her statement, she continued. “Since father and mother married, no governess has lasted two months without facing Mother’s anger.”
“Why is that?”
With a shrug, Lucy left the room, and headed up the stairs to her own space in this over-sized home, leaving Miss Davenport in the library to contemplate the events of the evening, with only lightning and thunder to keep her company.
The fortnight following Ms. Davenport’s hiring and encounter with Lucy Mackenzie, she met all the relevant members of the household, even seeing the Duke’s wife, although the wife was clearly in no condition to handle introductions very well. The new governess got along well with everyone else, and grew to like the place, especially as the rainstorm had passed and the sun shined through many of the rooms, giving it a glow that clearly changed the house for the better.
A clear blue sky filled one’s field of vision on this particular day with the sun having a visible but not dominating position over everything on the horizon. Ms. Davenport was escorting the three children – Lucy, David, and Catherine – through the Mackenzie Park behind the mansion when Robert ran up to her and handed her a note from the Duke.
“I must go to London for the next several fortnights on urgent business with the Parliament. Please take care of the children and Lady Mackenzie for me while I am gone. I trust they could not be in finer care.” – William
Shocked by the frankness of the note, she let her eyes wander. They passed the small pond, the elegant shrubs and other parts of the landscape, and became fixated on the distant stormy clouds. Concerned that a storm could arrive before they returned to the house, she began looking for the children.
It smelt like something was burning. Miss Davenport was unsure what it was, but when she wandered into the kitchen, she saw Robert, barely dressed, fumbling with a loaf of bread he had over-cooked.
“Robert, I thought you did a lot of baking.”
He mumbled something that resembled, “I was busy.”
After tossing the loaf outside in huge chunks for the dogs and other animals in the backyard, he walked back towards his room. Bewildered as she could be, Ms. Davenport shook her head, and stepped into the rec room, motioning the children to return to the room as well, so they could resume their studies.
More than a month went by, with only a note saying the Duke was spending extra time in Parliament. The rain was quite heavy when the doctor, on a house call, announced that the Lady Mackenzie’s health was deteriorating more rapidly than expected. He told the wife of the nobleman to stay in her general area of the mansion, and not venture too far into the rest of the house, for fear of draining her strength in getting back into her room.
The morning after the doctor’s visit, Ms. Davenport, whose first name was Amy, had to deliver the lady’s food. Robert was working in the stables to prepare the horses for use – Ms. Davenport has asked the maids to go into town to get a few things for sewing and cooking, and they needed to go that day, a calm in the series of storms that covered the mansion. Delivering food was not what made Amy nervous. Lucy has explained a few things about her mother that suggested a crabby, secretive, and very vindictive introvert. In short, she made many quiver in fear of her presence, the only exception being Robert, for some odd reason that Ms. Davenport could not determine.
The thunder had picked up in intensity as Davenport arranged the Lady’s breakfast on a tray, and began to go up the stairs. As she slowly ascended the staircase, the door to the Lady’s room opened up, and Robert stumbled out, with only half his clothes on. Clearly, he was pushed out of the room. Curious as she clearly was, she lowered her head and ignored his poor attempt at a graceful exit. He ran down the stairs, barely even noticing she was on the stairs. She opened up the room again, and braced herself for any verbal assaults of the kind that Lucy was warned her about.
Instead, the noticeably frail woman of more than forty years sat on the bed, looking up at the considerably more youthful brunette. After having difficulty in clearing her throat, the Lady managed to say, “You probably think I am an idiot.”
Startled by the Lady’s frankness and openness, Amy did not know how to respond. Quickly recovering, she countered with, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Sure you do!” The Lady spent a lot of energy trying to express her anger, but it did not faze the young governess one bit.
“My lady, it is not my business to inquire into what goes on inside the private bedrooms in this house other than my own.”
“I am tired. Leave me, “Lady Mackenzie said, waving the governess off after Amy had placed the breakfast tray down near the bed. Filled with worry for the Lady’s health, but confused as to her mood swings, the governess reluctantly left her alone in the spacious room that matched the library in its largesse.
She may have been relieved that the confrontation was not as bad as she had feared, but the governess also hoped that it did not rob the Lady of all the strength she had.
Later in the week, Amy found herself with unprecedented free time, since the children were out on a holiday with their father in London. With this free time, she decided to venture back into the library, something she had not done for quite some time – nearly as long as she had been at the Mackenzie mansion. This time, however, the sun was out and the storms were gone. This natural light added a friendlier tone to the room than was there before, when it seemed gloomy and eerie. Noticing a few books she had heard of, she grabbed on from the shelf and began reading.
Apparently, the book was good enough that she did not notice that anyone had entered the room. Therefore, when Robert tapped her on the shoulder, it definitely scared her out of her waits. “Why did you do that?” she demanded of him, while he looked dumbfounded as to her shock from his arrival in the room.
“I wanted your attention, which is the same reason anyone would have for what I just did.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I want to know how much you know about me and… Lady Mackenzie.”
The governess, in complete shock of his honesty and willingness to speak up frontly about this issue, took a minute to gather her thoughts. “All I have seen if you neglecting breads and being pushed out of her bedroom.”
“Then, I guess I might as well tell you the whole truth, since you’ve already figured something was going on between us.” He cleared his throat, while she placed her complete attention on the flame-haired butler. “We’ve been practicing heresy for more than ten years.” The governess gasped. “As the Duke spent more time with Baroness Judy Blair in Parliament, our lady grew lonely. When my wife left me, I became alone myself. We solved our solitude by getting together behind the backs of the Duke and the Church. The Lady wanted to protect our affair, so she drove out any governess who learned of it.”
Completely amazed by this revelation about this scandalous affair, the governess indicated she did not care to learn more about it. Robert, on his part, nodded and departed to begin making dinner. Of course, the scandal would soon no longer matter.
The Lady died that night. Lucky for her, she died in her sleep and did not feel a thing. Her high fever had just never gone down and sapped all the strength from her, not even leaving enough to sustain life. The funeral was held on a mostly sunny day, with a few clouds providing grateful shade in the cemetery on the Mackenzie estate. Everyone was shaken by the loss. At the funeral, everyone shed tears, but no one more than Robert, who clearly held a deep love for the one person he could never marry.
After the funeral, Amy readied the children for the trek back to the Mansion. After moving a curly hair out of her face, she turned towards the Duke, whose solemn expression seemed to be replaced by amazement at the governess’ ability to handle a tragedy. Next came the unthinkable, especially at a situation like this.
“You know, Amy, I never truly noticed what beautiful eyes you have.”