The Mistake/Beginnings #writephoto

dawn

Photo by Sue Vincent

He was in the foyer removing his hat and gloves when Flora walked.  He put them on the table.

“Here are the pen and paper you asked for, Sir,” she said handing them to him.  She was dressed in her coat and hat.

“Thank you, Flora,” he said, taking them from her.  “Are you going out?”

“Yes, Sir.  It’s my evening off.”

“Oh, yes.  Any plans for the evening?”

“Yes, Sir.  I’m going to the pictures with my friend.  I’m meeting her there.  Afterwards, we will have supper at her Mom’s place.”

“It sounds like you have a pleasant evening ahead.  Do you mind waiting until I write this note and then deliver it to Miss Bennett for me?”

“Not at all, Sir.”

He smiled and then turned away to write his the note.   “Do you have money for a cab?” he asked.

When she didn’t answer, he raised his eyes to the mirror and saw her staring at his hand.  He glanced down and realized that he was holding the pen in his left hand.  Deftly, he switched it to the right and wrote the note.  He folded the sheet of paper, took his seal out of the drawer and pressed it on the paper.  When he turned to face her, a smile masked the anger that seethed in him.  He had picked the pen up with his left hand.  Philip was a right hander.  Flora, being a left hander herself, noticed the mistake.

He held the note out to her.  She hesitated for a moment and then took it, her eyes avoiding his.  “Goodnight, Flora.”

“Goodnight, Sir,” she said and quickly walked to the door and let herself out.

He stood there for a few minutes, his mind whirling.  What was he going to do?  Then an expression of unnatural calmness came over his face and taking up his hat and gloves, he left the house.

Flora hurried quickly down the cobbled streets, jumping at every unexpected sound she heard.  In her mind the words of the newspaper played over and over.  “Based on the angle of the stab wounds, our killer is left handed.”

Master Philip was right handed, she was sure of it and yet, tonight, she saw him take up the pen in his left hand.  I must go to the police and report this, she thought.  Instead of heading in the direction of the residence, she continued straight ahead.

It was becoming cold and she drew her coat closer about her.  Her footsteps rang loudly on the street as she walked as fast as she could through the alleyways, wishing she had taken a cab with the pocket money she had.  She didn’t like walking about the streets in the night.   There were all sorts of characters lurking about.  And she kept thinking that someone was following her.  She thought she heard footsteps behind her but every time she turned around, there wasn’t anyone there.  You’re imagining things, she chided herself.  You’ll feel safe once you’re in Scotland Yard and talking to the kindly Chief Inspector.

With a start, she realized that she had made a wrong turn and was at a dead-end.  She turned to head back to where she had come from when a dark figure suddenly appeared and was walking toward her.  Panicking, she looked around her but there was no escape.  She would have to go past him.   Perhaps he was lost too.  Perhaps he was a harmless derelict.  She went towards him, heart pounding in fear and apprehension.  I can’t let fear prevent me from going to the police and telling them what I know. I will just walk past him as if he isn’t there.

As she drew closer, she saw that he was no derelict but a gentleman who looked out of place.  There was something familiar about him.  And then she realized who it was.   She tried to run but it was too late.  He had her cornered like a trapped animal.  She saw the tie in his hands and the maniacal look in his eyes.   “Master Raymond,” she gasped and she fought him wildly but it was no use.  Everything went black.

It was near dawn when he finally got back to the estate.  Instead of going directly to the house, he walked unsteadily up the hill overlooking the grounds and leaned heavily against the tree, his breath harsh and unsteady.  His raven dark hair was tousled, his clothes slightly disheveled, beads of perspiration formed on his wide brow and his face was deadly white.  Images Flora’s face as he pulled the tie tighter and tighter around her throat flashed across his mind.  It was the same look of terror he had seen on Estelle’s face when she realized that she was going to die.

Flora had fought him like a wildcat to the end, clawing at him.  He put his hand against the side of his neck where she had scratched him.  There was blood on his fingers.  He would have to clean the scratches as best as he could and hide them.  He felt in his pocket for the note which he had the presence of mind to remove from her purse.  He was going to burn it.  What he wrote in it, he could say to Constance in person.  And the tie.  He would have to dispose of it.

He hadn’t wanted to do Flora in.  She was a pretty little thing and he had even entertained the idea of getting involved with her but decided that it would be foolhardy to do so.  If she hadn’t noticed his mistake and been on her way to Scotland Yard, she would still be alive.  He had to be very careful.  No one could ever find out that he was Raymond.  They had to believe that he was Philip, the heir of Cherry Grove Estate.

As he moved away from the tree, the sun made its slow ascent in the sky.  Another day.  Another beginning.

Later that morning, they found Flora’s body.  As the Chief Inspector examined her, he thought, she looks familiar.  Her purse lay discarded at her feet.  Money was still in it.  This was no robbery.  And there was bruising around her neck.  This poor girl whoever she was had been strangled.  He raised her right hand and saw what looked like blood and skin under her fingernails.  She had fought her attacker and whoever he was, he had scratches, possibly on his face, neck or hand.  All they had to do was find out who this girl was and then they would find her killer.

 

This sequel to The Attic is in a response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Beginnings found at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

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The Gazebo

When Aubrey got the job of photographer at Harper Magazine, she didn’t expect to meet Olivia Cromwell, the famous mystery writer or fall in love with her brother, Brent.  The way Brent and she met was quite unexpected.  It happened one afternoon when she had accompanied Susannah, her employer to the Cromwell estate in Yorkshire.

It was Aubrey’s job to take the photos while Susannah did the interview.  So, after meeting Olivia and taking photos of her, Aubrey left the Victorian style drawing-room to explore the rest of the manor.  She wanted to take pictures of the study where the writer spent most of her time, working on her novels.  And of course, she had to explore the sprawling and immaculate grounds and see the gazebo where the wedding ceremony scene from Olivia’s latest book was filmed.

She went into different rooms, admiring them and taking pictures.  It felt really good having the freedom to do this and was grateful to Olivia for being so accommodating.  Not everyone liked having a perfect stranger roaming about unsupervised in their homes.  As she wandered down the hallway, she hoped that she would find her way back to the front foyer from where she could access the grounds.  She would just have to rely on her memory and sense of direction.

There was a door straight ahead.  It wasn’t open like the others but slightly ajar.  Was someone in there?  She approached it cautiously.  When she reached it, she nudged it open a little wider and looked in.  It appeared to be empty.  She went inside what turned out to be a fairly large sun-room.  Antique and modern furniture were juxtaposed with very impressive results.  Bright sunshine streamed through the large French windows.

She crossed the carpet to look out and was greeted with an obstructed view of the grounds and the looming mountains in the distance.  How pleasant it must be to see this every day.  Life in the countryside must be very peaceful and stress free.  What a welcome break it was from the hustle and bustle of the city.  It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop…

She heard a sound behind her and swung around, startled.  A tall figure had stepped into the room from an adjoining room.  He was wearing a white vest and held a blue shirt in his hand.  Heart thudding she watched him warily, wondering who he was and why Olivia hadn’t mentioned that he was here.  Suddenly, she felt like an intruder and her gaze shifted to the door she had come through, desiring to leave.  But, she stood there, rooted to the spot, transfixed as their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.

He was very attractive and looked to be in his mid to late thirties.  There was something very familiar about him.  Where had she seen him before?  She wished he would put on his shirt.  The wide shoulders, broad chest and bare chiseled arms were very distracting, not to mention the narrow hips and long, muscular legs in the faded jeans.  His hair was slightly damp as if he had just taken a shower.  When he pulled on his shirt and began to button it, she couldn’t prevent the sigh of relief which escaped from her lips and she saw his mouth twitch.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No, I’m not lost but I feel as if I’m intruding so, I’ll leave—”

He moved closer.  “No, please don’t leave on my account.” A pause and then, “Which publication are you with?”

She blinked at him.  “Publication?”

“I assume that you belong to some publication and that the reason you’re here has to do with my sister.  She mentioned that someone was coming over today to interview her.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes.  I’m Brent Montague.”  He finished tucking his shirt in his jeans.  “Now you have me at a disadvantage.  You know who I am but I don’t know who you are.”

“I-I’m Aubrey Williams and I work as a photographer for Harper Magazine.”

His gaze dropped to the camera in her hand before they returned to her face.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aubrey,” he said, extending his hand.

They shook hands.  “I didn’t think that anyone was here or I wouldn’t have come inside,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly.  “It’s not every day that I walk into this room and find a beautiful girl with a camera.”

He was still holding her hand as he staring down into her face.  She wondered if he could hear how fast her heart was beating.   “Do you live here?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m just visiting.”

“I-I really must go now,” she said, looking down at their hands, hers buried in his.

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave?” he asked.

“I’m not in a hurry,” she protested.  “I just wanted to take a walk on the grounds before Susannah is ready to leave.  I was hoping to see the gazebo where the scene of the wedding in Olivia’s book took place.”

“Would you like me to show you around?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He released her hand and she preceded him out of the room.  They walked down the hallway, through the foyer and out of the house.  There was so much to see.  The immaculate landscape seemed to stretch endlessly, dotted with colorful flowers and she paused at the fountain.  It was truly a work of art, reminding her of the ones she saw in Rome.  She felt as if she had stepped into a Jane Austen movie.  He took her to the gazebo and stood on the small, arched footpath, watching as she snapped pictures from different angles.  “It’s a perfect place for a wedding,” she remarked as she walked over to him.  “Has anyone ever gotten married here?

He shook his head.  “No, but my niece Marianne would have been the first if her fiancé hadn’t broken off their engagement a month before the wedding.”

“How awful.”

“Yes, it was a terrible shock for everyone.  It will take some time for Marianne to recover.  Right now, she’s in Barcelona.”

“Do you know why he broke it off?”

“I think he got cold feet.”

“Does Olivia have other children?”

“Yes, two sons.  One lives in Paris and the other in Barcelona.”

She wondered if he was married or had a girlfriend.  She couldn’t imagine that a man like him would be unattached.  After casting a furtive glance at his hand and not seeing a ring, she asked him, “Have you read any of Olivia’s books?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  She dedicated the first one to me.  When we were children, she used to read bedtime stories to me.  One night, she decided that instead of reading from a storybook, she would make up a story.  Her stories were so exciting that I didn’t want to go to sleep so our mother ended up reading to me but whenever we were alone, Olivia would tell me her stories.  I encouraged her to become a writer because she had such a master at it.”

“And now she’s a very successful one.  I’m a big fan.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”

“I’m twenty-four.”

“You look much younger.”

“Is that why you called me a girl when we were in the sun-room?”

He smiled slightly.  “I believe I called you a beautiful girl.”

Suddenly feeling very self-conscious she looked away, her pulse quickening.

“I’m sorry, Aubrey.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“I’m not embarrassed,” she replied.  “I’m very flattered.”

“I can see that you’re not used to compliments.  Don’t you receive any from your boyfriend?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Good.  Then, there’s no one to object to my inviting you to have dinner with me tonight.”

She blinked.  “Dinner with you tonight?”

“Yes.  That unless you have another engagement.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t.”

“Then, it’s settled.  I shall see you this evening at seven.  Where do you live?”

She gave him her address.  “I’d better join the others now.”

“I will escort you back.”  He started back to the manor, walking at a leisurely pace so that she could keep up with him.  In the foyer, he bade her goodbye, adding, “I’m looking forward to seeing you later,” before he headed off in the opposite direction.

When she joined them in the drawing-room, Susannah and Olivia were waiting for her.  “Ah, the wandering photographer has returned,” Olivia remarked.

“We were beginning to wonder why you were,” Susannah said.  “You must have gotten quite a lot of photos in the time you were gone.”

Aubrey nodded.  “I did and I met your brother,” she said to Olivia.

“Ah, yes.  Brent.  He’s very charming, isn’t he?”

“Yes.” And very exciting.  Just talking and thinking about him made her stomach do somersaults.

“Is he still dating that French model?” Susannah asked.

Aubrey held her breath as she waited for Olivia’s reply.

“Heaven’s no,” Olivia said, waving her hand dismissively.  “He ended that relationship ages ago.  Don’t know why he got involved with her in the first place.  I never did like the girl.  She was vain, possessive and not very bright.”

“Is he seeing anyone now?” Susannah asked.

“No.  He’s put relationships on hold, I think.  Now, I shall ring for some tea and scones which we can have on the patio.  It’s such a lovely day. Too lovely to be cooped up inside.  Oh, Aubrey, dear, do you know where Brent is?”

Aubrey shook her head.  “We parted company in the foyer.”

“What a pity.  I was hoping that he would join us.  Oh, well.  I suppose he had some errands to run or something.”

Tea arrived about five minutes later and as they chatted over mouth watering scones, Aubrey wished that the rest of the afternoon would pass quickly.  She couldn’t wait to see Brent again.

It was five minutes to seven and she was ready.  She stood in front of the full length mirror to make sure she looked all right.  He called her a beautiful “girl” but tonight she wanted him to see a beautiful “woman”.  The knee length navy blue, wrap dress with the V neckline and spaghetti straps hugged the contours of her body and the nude strappy sandals flattered her shapely calves.  Her hair was slicked down, giving her a classy, twenties look.  No makeup, only lip gloss and simple but elegant jewelry adorned her ears and neck.

The doorbell rang.  She glanced at her watch.  It was exactly seven.  He was very punctual.  After another quick glance over her reflection, she went to answer the door, her heart racing.  When she opened it, her eyes ran involuntarily over Brent’s tall frame.  He was dressed in a black paisley dinner jacket, black silk shirt, no tie and black trousers.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polished look.  Her heart was in her throat and she seem to have trouble breathing when she saw the way his eyes traveled slowly over her and then alighted on her face.  She saw admiration and something else shimmering in their depths.  “Hello,” she managed to say.

“You look ravishing,” he muttered, his expression tense.

“Thank you.  And–and you look very handsome.”

His expression remained unchanged.  “Thank you.”

She excused herself and went for her handbag.  After closing and locking the door, she preceded him to the lift, aware of his eyes on her.  She was so nervous.  This was her first date ever.  She hoped he wouldn’t find her company boring or tiresome or regret asking her to dinner.

Thankfully, the evening went much better than she anticipated.  Over a sumptuous meal, he helped her to relax by telling her funny and entertaining stories.

When they were having dessert, he said to her, his expression serious, “I want to see you again, Aubrey.”

She looked at him.  “I want to see you again too.”

“Do you know that after we parted company this afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about you?  I kept wishing the hours would go by quickly so that I could see you again.”

She laughed.  “I was wishing the same thing too,” she confessed.

“I don’t know what it is about you, Aubrey Williams, but you got to me in a way no other woman has ever done before.  I felt it this afternoon when I first saw you.”  He reached over and took her hand in his, his eyes intent on her face.  “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you.”

She could hardly think straight with him caressing her fingers with his thumb.  It was having a curious effect on her stomach.  “You’re–you’re not,” she managed to say breathlessly.

“It’s just that I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.” And it scares me.  “I want more of this. More of you, more of us. Together.”

“I want this too,” she said, her heart racing.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.  The feel of his lips on her skin made her tremble and she felt that strange sensation at the pit of her stomach again.

After dinner he took her dancing.  That night marked the beginning of the rest of their lives together. Visitors to their home couldn’t miss the beautiful framed wedding photo of them kissing in the “perfect place for a wedding”— the Gazebo which was decorated with flower garland.  At the bottom of the photo on the right side were the words, Happily Ever After.

Sources:  Carrocel; Archadeck of Central GA; Pinterest

International Day of the Girl

On my twelfth birthday, I sat on the cold ground in a corner of a dark room with my knees drawn up to my chin and my arms wrapped around them as the tears rolled down my dirty cheeks.   I couldn’t sleep.   I didn’t want to sleep because I was afraid that he would come back and hurt me again.  It really hurt down there.   Why did he hurt me?  Did I do something bad?  I can’t tell anyone.  He said that no one will believe me.  I can’t tell my mother.  She will beat me if I tell her that my father hurts me.

Sometimes I want to run away but I don’t know where I could go.   Sometimes I wish I was never born.  Sometimes I wish I could die.

One day my father got very ill and a week later he died.  I wish I could say that I was sad but I wasn’t.  I thought to myself, “He will never hurt you again.”  My mother didn’t seem sad either. She and my father didn’t love each other.  They used to fight a lot.  Sometimes he beat her when he was drunk.  Now it was just her, my two brothers and me.   Life did not get better after my father died.  I was still treated badly and beaten.  I worked hard while my brothers played.  Life was hard and unfair.  But what could I do?

Then, one day, three women came to our village.  One of them came to our home.  She had a kind face.  Her name was Sister Hope.  She spoke to my mother.  She talked about Jesus.  I was curious about this Jesus but didn’t want to ask any questions in front of my mother.  My mother had her gods so she wasn’t interested in this new God Sister Hope told her about.  Sister Hope smiled and left.  I was outside doing my chores.   She saw me and she came over to me.  She smiled and asked me my name.  She invited me to walk a little of the way with her.

As we walked, I asked her many questions and she answered them.  She told me about the Bridge of Hope Centre.  It sounded like a place where I would like to be. It was my chance to leave home, at least for a while.  I asked her if she could speak to my mother.

I went to the Bridge of Hope Centre once a day—in the afternoons.  The staff was so kind and caring. I was not used to that.  I was used to being abused, neglected and mistreated.  My father abused me since I was five years old.  My mother never loved me because I am a girl.  She loved my two brothers.  Sometimes I wished that I were a boy so that my mother would love me and my father wouldn’t hurt me.

It was not easy at first. I was not doing well in my studies.  I was still hurting inside.  Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate but Rashmi who taught me was very patient with me.  One day, she gently asked me to share my story with her.  I found it hard to talk about it so I drew pictures.  When she saw the drawings, she looked really sad.  I could see the tears in her eyes. That surprised me.  No one had ever cried for me before.  No one had ever felt sorry for me.  When I was at home, I was all alone.  I had no one to share my pain with.  No one cared.  No one asked me anything.  I didn’t matter to them.  But here, I did.

After she put the drawings aside, Rashmi reached out and held my hands.  She looked me straight in my face and said, “I’m so sorry that you went through such pain but I want you to know that you have a Father who loves you.  He saw you suffering and that is why He sent me to you. He loves you with an everlasting love.  He knew you before you were even born.  He knows that you are still in pain and wants and comfort you.  He wants to pour out His love on you if you will let Him.”

When I heard that I had another Father who loved me and wanted to take care of me, I began to cry.  I cried for a while.  Rashmi sat there, holding my hands.  Then, I stopped crying and felt better.  The heavy feeling that I had was not there anymore.  I felt God’s love fill me.  It felt warm.  That is the moment when I gave my heart to God. My work began to improve.

Rashmi taught me from the Bible.  I learned more about God and how much He loved me.  I learned that He gave His Son, Jesus so that I could have eternal life.  I had a Father who wanted what was best for me and who wanted to give me everything I needed.  He would never hurt, mistreat or neglect me.  He promised that He would always be there, watching over me and protecting me.  He was the father and mother I never had.

Jesus became my Friend.  He filled me with a peace that I never had.  He is always there.  When I read about how kind He was to the Samaritan woman, I knew that He would be kind to me too even though I am a girl.  I knew that Jesus didn’t love me less because I am a girl.  He had friends who were women.  He didn’t reject women and I knew that He wouldn’t reject me.

My mother noticed the changes in me. I was no longer sad. I was singing as I did my chores. I tried to tell her about Jesus but she didn’t want to hear about it. She even said to me, “If I hear another word about this Jesus of yours, I will stop you from going back to the centre.” I didn’t talk to her about Jesus after that but for weeks I prayed every night that she would want to know about Him. Weeks went by and then one morning she came to me. She looked scared. “I had a dream last night,” she said. “I was at the river doing laundry when I saw a bright light around me. Out of the light I heard a voice say to me, ‘forsake your gods and follow Me.’ I was afraid but the voice sounded kind so I asked, ‘who are You?’ The voice said, ‘I am Jesus.’ Then He told me again to forsake my gods and follow Him. Tell me about this Jesus.”

I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say at first. God had answered my prayers. Jesus had revealed Himself to my mother. I told her all that I knew about Jesus. Then Sister Mary came to study the Bible with her. My mother accepted Jesus and our lives have changed. We get along better now.

Now I am 15 years old.  I have been going to the centre for three years.  I love it here.  I want to be a teacher so that I could tell other girls about Jesus.  I want to tell them that it doesn’t matter that they are girls.  Jesus loves them.

This story is fictitious but it is the reality for many girls in South Asia.  Many are abused, neglected, mistreated and unloved simply because they are girls. Some run away from home and end up on the streets where they end up begging, forced into child labor, exploited or trafficked or some of them end up in a Gospel for Asia’s Children’s home.

From the time they are born, they are mistreated, solely because they are girls. A girl cannot carry on the family name nor aptly provide for her parents when they get old. Additionally, her parents will likely have to go into debt to pay her marriage dowry. Because of this, she is seen as a burden to her family and not a blessing – Gospel for Asia.

Thankfully, some girls who still live at home like the one in this story are invited to the Bridge of Hope Centre while others like Manjulika are placed in Gospel for Asia’s Children’s home.  Read her story.

International Day of the Girl is a global and annual event initiated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the plight girls around the world.  This year’s theme is “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.”

There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential, however they are disappearing from public awareness and the international development agenda. Between inequities in secondary education to protection issues, adolescent girls are uniquely impacted and should benefit from targeted investments and programmes that address their distinct needs. Investing in adolescent girls can have a formidable ripple effect to create a better world by 2030. On this International Day of the Girl, join us in highlighting the unique challenges and potential of adolescent girls – UNICEF.

This is our opportunity to highlight the needs and rights of girls.  Girls face discrimination because of their gender.  They face barriers to education, opportunities to make a living, child-marriages and poverty.   The sad reality is that when we invest in girls, “we create a brighter and safer future for everyone.  When girls are educated, healthy and informed, they are able to lift themselves, their children and communities out of poverty” (Because I Am a Girl).  Girls matter!  They should be celebrated, empowered and encouraged not abused, misused, neglected or exploited.   Invest in a girl today!

There are girls out there who don’t know that there is a God who created them in His image and that they are precious in His sight.  He rejoiced when they were born.  Pray that He will send missionaries to their homes and rescue them from their private hell.  Pray that boys and girls will find refuge at Gospel for Asia supported Children’s homes. Help programs like Bridge of Hope, a children’s program, where they help with the children’s education, provide them with food, medical care, tutoring, clothing, and show them the love of Christ.  Pray that many of these girls and their families will be led to Christ who has the power to “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death–to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Galatians 1:4).

Celebrate the power and potential of girls!

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; UNICEF; Because I am A Girl