The Mistress of Everton Hall
|Photo by Sue Vincent|
Arabella walked down the endless path, parasol in hand. She didn't really need it. There was lots of shade with scattered spots of sunlight. The tall pine trees loomed above her as they flanked the path. The morning breeze caressed her pale cheeks and stirred her strawberry hair. This path was where she and Cliff used to walk when he was courting her.
Cliff. Her lips pursed as she thought about him. The love of her life who ended up marrying her older sister, the exquisitely beautiful Rosalind. Bitterness and resentment rose in her heart as she thought of Rosalind. Her sister could have had any man she wanted but she set her sights on Cliff who was powerless to resist her. Rosalind had that bewitching effect on men. And Cliff was not immune.
She remembered how she had watched Rosalind flirt shamelessly with him when she introduced them and how he had lapped up her attention like an eager dog. She should have known what the outcome would have been but still, it was a shock when Cliff ended their engagement. Months later, Rosalind and he got married. Not wanting to be the subject of gossip for not attending the wedding, she went and watched as the man she loved exchanged vows with her wretched sister. How she hated her. She wished she could hate him too but she couldn't. In spite of everything, she still loved Cliff and that's why she was living at Everton Hall now.
When Rosalind became an invalid following a riding accident, she moved in and helped to care for her. She didn't do it out of sisterly love or even out of duty. She did it to be near Cliff. How it warmed her heart to hear him say, "Arabella, I don't know what I would do without you. You're a Godsend." She wanted to tell him that she would do anything for him--anything.
After Rosalind passed away, she remained at Everton Hall as the lady of the house, making sure that things ran smoothly. For a while it was just Cliff, her and the servants. Life at Everton Hall was pleasant and Rosalind became a memory. Her portrait still hung in the Grand Hall. She had died childless. If Cliff had married me, we would have had lots of children, Arabella always said to herself. Perhaps one day we will marry and have children.
Her dreams of marrying Cliff and bearing his children were dashed when she received a note from him that he had met, fallen in love and married a girl he met in Monte Carlo. She had stared at the note in horror, her face as white as a sheet. How could he? How could he marry a perfect stranger when she was there, waiting for him to marry her? All these years she had waited patiently, believing that Cliff would realize that he had made a terrible mistake marrying Rosalind instead of her. She believed that he would fall in love with her again. And now, he was bringing home another woman to be mistress of Everton Hall. After she read the note, in a rage, she tore it into tiny pieces and threw it into the fire.
They were arriving today. She heard the church bell strike and realized that they should be arriving any time soon. Well, she will be there to greet them. She was still mistress of Everton Hall.
Cliff and his bride were greeted by two lines of servants when Arabella arrived. He turned to her and smiled warmly. "Hello Arabella," he said, extending his hand. She took it and he drew her toward the young lady standing beside him. "Arabella, this is Penelope."
Arabella looked at the young woman--a slip of a girl really. What did he see in her? She was not remarkably beautiful or even pretty. She was very slim, a bit too dark with black shoulder length hair and large brown eyes. She didn't look older than twenty. This was to be the new mistress of Everton Hall? Not if I can help it. Smiling graciously now, she held out her hand. "Welcome to Everton Hall, my Dear."
Penelope smiled and grasped the outstretched hand. "I'm happy to finally meet you, Miss Taylor. Cliff has told me so much about you."
"Please call me Arabella."
"Thank you, Arabella. I do hope we can be good friends."
"I'm sure we will be, my Dear. Come let me give you a tour of your new home." She put her arm around Penelope's shoulders and led her toward the grand mansion.
Cliff followed them, looking quite pleased. "What a good sport Arabella is," he muttered to himself. "What would I do without her?"
This was written in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Track at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.