Supernatural Fiction posted August 22, 2014

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The New Teacher

by Drew Delaney

Gothic Contest Winner 
The carriage thrashed upwards along the sloping hillside. Afraid the horses might not make it all the way, I heard the man mercilessly whipping the horses, and their whinnying in anguish. It struck me with a perception of wretchedness. We bounced about as if the wheels were about to fall away. The creaking echo put me on the edge of my seat.

What if we should roll over? To think I entered into this trap with this strange man - this driver - dressed in that long black cape and his haunting deep, black, penetrating eyes. And I, alone with this creature, in this god-forsaken place? Oh, I mustn't think thus. He surely must be experienced with his toil, otherwise, why would Mr. Thornhill employ him as my footman? I was feeling the grit in my hair. My gloves felt damp with perspiration.

I remember when the letter arrived. Excited at finally being hired as a teacher and having residence supplied on the same premises where the school was located provided great comfort to my well-being. Not accustomed to having much money, it would be what a young lady of my status had dreamed of. It was either that or working as a governess. Otherwise, like other young women, marrying into a rich family, which I had no intentions of considering. Teaching was a better position to be procured. More respect, shorter hours, and time left to occupy oneself with the duties of sewing one's own clothing, writing letters, and that of reading books. It was what Mama had suggested when I read the letter to her.

At last we reached the main entrance to the mansion. A full moon greeted us, and the footman held out his arm to assist me. I avoided eye contact and fabricated an aristocratic young gentleman in lieu of the rugged monster. I was a bit crumpled and my dress and bonnet were in a state of disarray. Within a moment or two of composing myself, I hurriedly shook my bonnet and skirt to get rid of the creases. It was the best I could do for the time being.

A serpent knocker, resting betwixt large claws, was anchored so that one must use it to strike the massive door. The driver watched me feeble handed with a near-live serpent in hand. He masked his face with his hood. I envisioned blood on his bulbous hands. I shrugged, thinking I was imagining things. He did provide me a safe, though rough ride, through the heath and moorland. Much to my dismay, a young man with fair complexion and a balding head greeted me. He had an amiable face. A short man, comparable to my height.

"Yes, may I be of assistance to you, Miss?" He smiled, and I felt reassured now that I had made the right decision. My foolishness often pressed me into worry and inhibition. This time, it would not be the case. I must work hard, and send money to my poor Mama.

"Yes, I am the new teacher employed by Mr. Thornhill. Would he be available at this late hour?" I was a bit hesitant.

"Oh, to be sure. Do come in. He is resting in the drawing room. I will let him know you are here. He has been expecting you."

He left me standing at the door. I entered and closed it behind me. The thud boomed. That driver was the kind of character out of a novel like Dracula, which I happened upon reading just before I departed from London. Just pondering on the man could drive me to an early grave.

The young butler returned shortly. "Ah, yes. I see you have made your way inside. The Master will see you as soon as you are ready, Miss. First I will take your things and escort you to your room if that suits you? There you will have a chance to refresh yourself. Would you like some tea, perhaps? Maybe a scone, or some fruit?"

"Oh, that would be awfully kind of you. I am a titch hungry since I have not eaten since breakfast."

I followed him up the winding staircase, and then on to more winding stairs. Where was he taking me? It appeared I would be living in the attic. Once he set my belongings on the floor, next to my bed, he lit another candle using the candle he asked me to hold on to. Then he set it on a table, and lit one more resting on the hearth. He quickly set a flame in the grate and the room felt cosy at once.

"Oh, thank you so much. You are most kind." He pointed to the closet where my washbasin and other requirements were positioned. There was a bureau in dark mahogany, and an armoire of the same mahogany to hang my dresses and coats. The bed was a four-poster bed frame with linen draped around it. A small, red carpet covered a great portion of the wood-plank floor in the room, though slightly worn. And a bookcase filled with books sat near the window. I could hardly wait to see what the Master had in store for me. A short window seat with red cushions and red curtains dressed the area.

"I will remain outside the doorway. When you are ready, we will go down and you will meet the maid, Mrs. Bailey. She will be the one to help you get your toilette done in the mornings, and help you in the evenings. You know, for dinner? Come out when you are ready."

He seemed a friendly spirit of a man, and of a cheery countenance. I poured water from the white jug into the basin covered in blue coloured miniature flowers. I splashed water on my face, and tucked in some strands of hair that were dangling in my face.

When we entered the parlour, Mrs. Bailey, the maid had just arrived with a platter of baking, some teacups and a steaming teapot. Her white bonnet covered her salt and peppery hair. Her tiny figure supported her butterfly movements. What a delight she seemed. Mr.Thornhill reached for my hand, shook it faintly, and introduced himself.

"Would you add a few sticks to the fire, James, and then you may be excused." The atmosphere was delightful. A cheery air to the room, with sconces of lit candles everywhere.

"Please, sit and we shall have our tea. I hope you enjoy your stay here, Miss Mary Cunningham. It's been some time since we have had a genuine teacher in our midst."

I sipped on the hot tea, and set the cup down on the platter on the small table.

"The bedroom is lovely, sir. It will do nicely for me. I don't require that much room and I will be busy with teaching all day. I am anxious to meet the pupils. How many will I be teaching and how old are they?"

He stood and walked to the fire, nudging the sticks with a heavy poker to get them into proper position. Ambers flicked in response.

"Let us speak of your duties tomorrow. I am sure you must be most weary. For the moment, let us chat about your trip and how you feel about this new venture."

My passion concerned my new pupils, but I thought it could wait until the following day as he had suggested.

Mr. Thornhill smiled a great deal. In fact, lines were drawn on his cheeks in permanent creases. I felt like yawning, but I knew that would not do. Once we exchanged a few moments of chatter and finished the tea and biscuits, I stood thanking him for his kindness.

"Well sir, I think I will head off to my room. You have been most gracious and I am exceedingly grateful to have work and a lovely room to call home. We will speak tomorrow of my duties as you have suggested. I am getting quite weary at present. I must bid you a goodnight, sir."

He stood and squeezed my hand a bit tighter this time. With a brass candle holder and a lighted candle, I curtsied, then strolled on my way up the staircase.

A shadow of myself followed me. On the second set of stairs, it was as though, another shadow had joined mine. It would disappear and quickly return. Oh, I am wearier than I had supposed. I must get some sleep. The morrow will be bright and all this nonsense will be past.

Upon entering the room, the candles had flickered out. Possibly a draft I presumed. The room seemed stuffy. I relit the candle on the table, and walked toward the window.

I could not believe what caught my eye in the bright moonlight. A graveyard stood below my window filled with gravestones. Horrified at the sight, it took a few moments to collect my thoughts. Why on earth is there a graveyard right below my window? I could not understand the sense of it all.

A gentle rap ruptured the silence.

"Yes, who is it?" I whispered. loud enough to be heard.

"It is Mrs. Bailey. Would you like me to turn down your bed?" She spoke a little louder than I. I felt relieved to hear her voice. I needed someone at present. She would suffice.

"Yes, do come in." My voice trembled as I spoke. I did not know how to proceed or what to say. I was dumbstruck.

"Is everything all right, Miss?" Her eyes looked downcast. "Is something troubling you? You can tell me. That is why I am here. To see that you are comfortable and at ease, my dear." I was not sure what to think. Or even how to proceed. I decided to take a chance and ask her about the graveyard.

"What graveyard are you speaking about, Miss?" I grasped her forearm and led her to the slightly opened window. We both looked out peering across the countryside. The moon shone so bright, and the highlands looked a beautiful sight. There was no graveyard to be seen.

"Oh, Mrs. Bailey. I'm so sorry to have troubled you. I must be wearier than I first thought. Please turn my bed down, and bring me a tumbler of water. I will be all right, by morning, following a good night of rest. You see, I just read the book, Dracula, and it must be playing on my mind."

Mrs. Bailey raised an eyebrow, and grimaced somewhat. "I'm afraid, I do not know how to read, nonetheless, if that is what happens to one who reads books, I am glad I have not learned the skill." She huffed on her way out, and closed the door in a timid manner.

She must think me to be uncanny, that poor lady. I must get my wits about me and rest before something else materialises. I slipped my nightwear on, and hung my dress. Then I slid in under the covers. The full moon lit the room, and I could see shadows everywhere. I must close my eyes so that my imagination doesn't play tricks on me again. These good people will think me to be a most peculiar individual.

The night lengthened to many hours. I wanted to get up and peer out the window once again, but I feared doing so. Finally, I could not stand it any longer. My feet met the floor, and the cracking sounds of the boards turned me into a statue several times. I didn't care to wake the entire household. I reached the window, but the moon was now hidden behind some low-hanging clouds. I could not see a thing.

It would have to wait until morning. If I could just sleep and forget that scene of gravestones. Sleep finally arrived, then a sudden tap at the door.

"It is time to awake, Miss Mary. Breakfast will be soon on the table. May I come in?"

"Why, yes of course, Mrs. Bailey." I felt like I hadn't slept a wink. She brought up some warm water in a pitcher, and I did my toilette. Then I put my corset on and Mrs. Bailey tightened the lacing as tightly as possible especially around the waist.

"It's a lovely day, Miss Mary. I dare say, I hope you have had a good sleep." Her disposition, light and airy, greeted me with much consideration.

"Sorry to say, not as well as I had hoped."

"Well, forgive me for saying, but maybe you ought not to read such frightening tales if it leaves you on edge."

"Yes, maybe you are correct in saying so, Mrs. Bailey. I won't be reading those types of novels for some time, I can assure you." We both laughed nervously which cleared the air between us, I felt.

Once we reached the breakfast table, there was just Mr. Thornhill and myself. The servants ate in the kitchen once we were served.

"You slept well?" Mr. Thornhill slurped his tea from a saucer. He glimpsed at me with an uncanny eye.

"I'm sorry to say, not well at all. I think it may be due to the complete change, Sir. I am not used to having tea past six o'clock. You see, the family I lived with before arriving here, supped early." I did not care to convey my fears to the Master. "Are we going to see the school house today, Sir?"

"Indeed. We will go there immediately after breakfast. I have another engagement following our tour of Thornhill Hall. I trust you will see that everything meets according to your standards, Miss Mary. May I call you Miss Mary, since I notice, everyone else has taken a liking to that name?"

I felt a little flushed in my cheeks. I hoped he did not notice. "Why yes, Sir. Miss Mary is fine indeed."

We spoke little after that. He ate well, but my stomach felt queasy. The tea went down nicely, but the solid food did not sit well. Maybe once I moved around, my stomach would settle. At least, that is what I had hoped. I hadn't any time to get ill at this busy time.

"Shall we go, then, Miss Mary? Take your wrap with you, for there is a possibility of some drizzle. I can feel it in the air. Can you not?"

"Why, I never could forecast the weather Sir. It is not in my bones yet, I suppose."

He held on to my forearm, and we strolled along the path. The front of the mansion was green and luscious with new growth. The schoolhouse was in the back he said. As we turned the corner of the mansion, there stood the graveyard I had seen the night before. Possibly a reflection of it arose in the moonlight against the open window-pane.

"Where is the schoolhouse, Sir."

"These are the children you will be teaching, Miss Mary. They need to learn their prayers. You see, they have been very naughty. And I have had to punish them.


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