The Symbol of the Bright Star Shine
Bright and early came the day of my secret undercover mission. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed, rain hammering the windows like angry villagers. I groaned, falling back against my covers.
“Miss Abigail!” Dorothy pulled my blankets off again. “The day grows old! Get your lazy behind out of bed this instant.”
“What, might I inquire, is the time this lovely morning?”
“Four thirty-two, Abigail. Be thankful I let you sleep in an extra two minutes. Now show your gratitude and help your old Dorothy with the breakfasts!”
“Actually, Dorothy, Mrs. Verlesk has given Abigail a bye today,” said Mindy bitterly. “She may go back to sleep until the Mistress tells her otherwise.
“Really?” I mumbled. “Splendid.”
Thunder cracked, scaring me so as to propel me out of bed. I landed on the floor with a thud. Everyone laughed at me.
So I ended up getting dressed anyway. Mindy didn’t give me one thing to do, so I helped Dorothy after all.
“Master Gregory is a peculiar one, don’t you think?” Dorothy kneaded the bread and I fried eggs.
“Sure. He’s not like most people of his status. He’s actually…nice. Not snobby at all.”
“I think he likes you, Abigail.”
I choked. “Dorothy, that is absurd! He is courting!”
Dorothy looked confused. “No, he isn’t, dear. I inquired. Yesterday, in fact.”
I stared at her. “He’s not courting anyone? But I’m a maid, Dorothy. He can’t like me.”
She frowned. “Dear me, child, have you not been listening to a word I’ve been saying? Master Gregory is not like them!”
“He insists that I call him Carson,” I said quietly.
Dorothy tapped my arm. “There you go, Abigail.”
“Well, so what? It can’t last for long, and anyway, I’m waiting for Paul to return.”
Dorothy smiled gently. “You just do whatever your heart tells you, Abigail, and trust that the Lord will lead you the rest of the way.”
We worked in silenced the rest of the morning, and then I was summoned by Mrs. Verlesk to the empty parlour.
“I’m about to take off, Abigail.” She put something in her purse and slung in onto her shoulder. “You know what you are to do, I trust? And if he leaves in the carriage, you must ride after him on one of the horses. Remember, Abigail, he must not know that you are tailing him. this is very, very important.” She gripped my chin in her hands, tipping my face up to hers. “He worries me, Abigail.”
For the first time, I noticed that her eyes were the exact same hazel colour as mine, with one large blue speck in the same place. She released me.
“But, Mistress, I have not been on a horse in my life!”
She turned around. “Oh, don’t be silly. I know you rode with Paul Johnson last summer, and you did quite alright, indeed.” She shot me a knowing look and then disappeared.
I sank into the cushioned chair by the fireplace. So she knew about that. I laughed. Good old Mrs. Verlesk.
“Oh, and Abigail—” the door opened again and she poked her head in. “Abigail! You are supposed to be finding my husband, not sitting around! Don’t think that this free day is actually free!” She folded her arms across her chest.
“No, of course not, Mrs. Verlesk! Right away, ma’am. Please forgive me, Mistress!” I jumped up and curtsied, holding my position until she spoke again.
“Very well, but don’t forget your purpose, Abigail. I am counting on you.” The statement was more of a threat than a reminder. “You may rise.”
My legs screamed in protest, and I almost fell.
It took no time at all to find Mr. Verlesk. He was in his study; I was just in time to see him shut the door.
I ran and got my mending basket, sitting in the spare dining hall with a full view of that door. I got through exactly one stitch before it opened again.
He walked out, saw me with my head bent over a purple dress, and didn’t say anything. I grabbed a dusting rag from under a shelf, and followed him to the door, stopping to dust random things along the way. I hid in the unused closet as he pulled on his hat and raincoat. The doorman held his umbrella for him as he stepped into the rain.
I growled under my breath. Please come back, I begged silently. I ran to the window, and watched in horror as he got into the waiting carriage.
“No!” I cried. But as the driver flicked the reins, it was evident that I was going to have to follow.
In the pounding rain.
I passed Lucy as I sprinted to the servant’s quarters. “Whoa, Abigail! Where’s the fire?”
“No fires in this weather, Lucy,” I called over my shoulder as I streaked by. “But I have to go!”
I yanked my jacket on and grabbed my umbrella. I had no time to lace up my boots. I would have to ride in my shoes. Gritting my teeth, I raced back out again, and didn’t stop running until I reached the stable.
“Remember me, Vesuvius?” I asked breathlessly as I opened the stall door. It was all coming back to me now, the passive instruction Paul had given me. We had been riding many times together after that first day. I put the bit in, not bothering with the saddle since we had always rode bareback. I led him to the mounting block and got on.
But I wasn’t wearing a riding skirt. My dress rode awkwardly up my thighs, exposing my legs to the horrid rain. I had no idea how to steer the beast, let alone do it with an umbrella, so I was forced to leave it behind. I could hardly see two feet in front of me.
Fretting, I picked up the reins. Paul said that squeezing with your legs was the way to go, but how hard? experimentally, I applied a little bit of pressure. Suddenly I remembered that Paul had always clicked at the horse, and that seemed to work for him.
“Come on, Vesuvius!” I clicked my tongue against my cheek. he snorted, shaking his head and spraying me with more rain. not that it made much of a difference. “I don’t have time for this!” I exclaimed. I kicked him in the side.
The next thing I knew, I was facedown in the mud.
I don’t know how long I laid there, soaking in the summer rain. I heard Vesuvius galloping away, and then it was just me and the storm.
“Abigail!” came a cry from very far away. I spit the dirt from my teeth and tried to stand, but I couldn’t feel my legs. I opened my mud caked eyes, and found I could see better, here on the ground. Mr. Verlesk’s carriage was nowhere in sight; I had failed.
Strong hands gripped me under my arms, pulling me upwards. All at once, the feeling in my legs came back—and I instantly wished it hadn’t.
“Whoa, steady there!” said my rescuer as I sagged back toward the ground. I was swept up into his arms, and his arm under my leg was like a knife-edged rock digging into my muscles.
But now I could clearly see his face. “Master Gregory?” I shouted over the storm.
“Carson!” he shouted back without his smile. Hunched over me, he walked quickly to the house.
“What happened, Abigail?” he asked when we stood in the doorway, dripping on the carpet.
I shook too hard to answer. Despite myself, I pressed my cheek against his warm shoulder. The pain in my legs travelled to my throat and threatened to explode into a scream. I wished he would put me down.
“Helen!” I heard him call.
“Oh, dear! What happened? Come, take her to her room! Agatha! Mary! Come help, there’s been an accident!”
I was laid gently on my warm feather bed, and Carson protested as he was shooed away. I was stripped of my soaked clothes, and then laid in a bath so hot it made me scream.
“There, there,” soothed Lucy, as four pairs of hands held me still. “It’s not really hot, you’re just cold as an icebox.”
“We must splint her legs!”
“Good Lord, look at how they’re flopping!”
I screamed again, in horror this time. stupidly, I continued to thrash in the water that was still not comfortable. I was shuddering violently, each convulsion stabbing straight to my legs.
“Somebody call the doctor!”
“There’s no need, Dorothy, she’ll be fine. We just need to calm her down. she’s making it worse!”
“Abigail, sweetie, you have to be still,” said Lucy frantically. Her words went through me without sticking anywhere; I continued to thrash and scream.
Suddenly, there was a sharp pain on the side of my head, and I knew no more.
I groaned, turning over in my bed. The motion brought stabbing pains to precisely every part of my body, and I sagged on the mattress.
“Abigail? Are you awake?”
I didn’t know who was talking to me, but I couldn’t answer. The only thing I could do was go back to sleep.
“Abigail, honey, wake up,” said the same soft voice.
“Why?” I mumbled. I didn’t hurt so much anymore, but sleep was still the better alternative. “Go away.”
“Someone’s here to see you, Abigail. He brought you something.”
He? I smiled, taking a wild guess at who it was. I had had the most pleasant dreams…
I was mildly surprised. This wasn’t the voice of my blue-eyed prince. “Nell?” I whispered.
“Yes, it’s me. Are you okay? Mindy says she hit you really hard!”
I frowned. Why would Mindy hit me? I knew she didn’t like me, or anyone, really, but she had never so much as raised a hand to even stray dogs.
“Nell, you know why I did it,” said Mindy, and I was startled all over again. Her voice was the same one that had called me out of the darkness. “How are you feeling, Miss Charlotte?”
“Better,” I sighed, which didn’t say much. Saying to someone stranded in a canyon that they were doing well after climbing six feet was more sensible.