“Don’t touch her.” A man suddenly barged in as my new owners dragged me into the wagon. He was tall and undeniably handsome, but I never once saw him.
“Who are you?” Mr. Adulf, the man I was sold off to asked him.
“I own her. She’s my slave. I doubled the amount. Give her back to me.”
Mr. Adulf took the bag and weighed if it did cost more than he paid for me. “What’s so important about this filth?” He protested but otherwise unlocked the wagon.
“Laura”, a weak voice called behind me before I was almost released. I looked back and saw my best friend Peter in chains; his face almost unrecognizable.
“Edward, what happened?” I asked in disbelief. I wanted to take him with me. He’s not someone who could be treated like this. I reached my hand to him only to be recklessly pulled out by Mr. Adulf’s men that I almost fell on the ground, but the man who bought me back caught hold of me.
“Are you alright?” He asked.
“Yes, thank you Mister but, who are you?” I asked, yet my eyes were still on Peter, as though I would want to run after the wagon.
“I’m Daniel, your lover. Don’t you remember?” He then wrapped his arms around me, like a lover indeed who longed for his woman. But why could I not remember him?
In fact the only memory I had in my mind was with my lord Peter. He was my master, at the same time friend before I was almost sold to Mr. Adulf. But now he was captive—he was imprisoned and could die a slave.
Everyday was a threat to him, as though any moment by now he’d be thrown out if not for the name he entails to bear. He was the son of Mr. Auttenberg, a wealthy baron and politician, and the allegedly sole heir to his family’s fortune. I knew this, because I was raised in the same mansion as him, only that I was a cook’s daughter, and him, a master. I had been a witness to the endless conflict of his family and to his fragile physique that had always threatened his right to rule his house. His misfortune, as far as I had noticed, was when his mother died of heart failure and his father soon married another to fill the emptied place. Mrs. Amanda was the second wife, and I had to say she was one cruel head of the household. It was only thanks to my deceased father who happened to be her friend that we were allowed to live and serve in her mansion. She had a son and a daughter, and both of them I certainly disliked. Surely, I would prefer a sickly, lonely master than the nasty ones. If only his fate wasn’t so cruel to him, then perhaps he enjoyed the days of his youth, and might as well marry and be successful just like his father.
I wasn’t particularly close to him. In fact I wasn’t even in the right place to approach him. It just so happened that in the early days of my childhood, I met him, and for a short period of time I was his companion. I had no interest in cooking like my mother was, so I didn’t usually spend my days in the kitchen watching her cook. I’d rather spend time playing outside with my pen and sketchpad beside the tree, so when I get tired I would simply draw anything that comes on my mind. In that particular season of spring, I drew a field of roses. For a second I left my things again and ran around the field, just nearby the tree. I once again imagined I was in my own world of fantasy. What silly thoughts I had indeed when I was a child. Only then when I stopped did I notice a boy of my age sitting on my place, my things on his lap, drawing something on my sketchpad.
“Hey! Those are mine!” I shouted with much annoyance. I didn’t want anyone touching my things especially a stranger.
He didn’t respond to me nor did he bother looking up, as though he was so into his work that he didn’t seem to feel my presence.
“That’s—beautiful…” was all I could say upon seeing what he did to my roses. He didn’t only enhance the draft I made, but added life to it. In his field of roses there were children like us, blissfully playing to their hearts content. Some were reading a book; some were making a crown made of roses; while some formed a circle, their hands clasped together. It was like heaven to us children.
I silently sat beside him and watched him add the details. I disregarded the fact that he touched my things, for it was thanks to him that I saw my dream place, and I must say his fantasy as well.
“Here, it’s done.” He said and shared it on my lap; the two of us savoring the beauty of the place. I had completely forgotten my anger just a while ago.
“Have you been here?” I asked, wondering if he had experienced such ecstasy to visualize such a scene.
“No. But someday my mom will be, and then I will have to follow her.” He spoke with a hint of solitude.
“But you mom is not here, and I don’t find you here either.” Back then I didn’t realize his point.
“Not yet, but she’ll come before me. I’d have to let her leave.”
“Why is your mom leaving you?” I asked with much curiosity this time.
Someone’s voice suddenly came from afar that he wasn’t able to answer. “My lord!” When he heard it, who seemed to be his maid’s, he stood up and showed himself.
“Here I am.” He said with authority though a child he only was. I befriended a master, but that I cared less during the old days.
“Oh, my lord, you’ve been advised not to hide from me. I can’t lose sight of you.” She said exhaustedly, finally approaching his master. She looked familiar to me, and only when she pointed out did I realize we belonged in the same household.
“Aren’t you the cook’s daughter?” She looked surprise upon seeing me with her master, who appeared to be my master as well.
“What are you doing out here with Master Daniel? Don’t you know he’s sick that you’re stressing him like this?” She panicked, thinking it was all to blame on me.
Daniel turned to me; his face pale in illness as the maid said. “You belong to my house?”
“Yes,” I said, and before I forgot I was in service to him, “my lord”, I curtseyed.
“I’ve never seen you before. What’s your name?” It was also my first time to see him.
“I am Laura.” I merely replied.
He then smiled, as if I had such a pretty name to put a weak, yet sincere smile on his face. “Come with us, Laura.” He spoke softly, and as I was just about to agree he suddenly coughed, both of us, his servants were frightened seeing him in crucial state.
That was the first time I saw a boy with a lifeless future but still in high spirits. That was the first time I met a person who treasured every single day of his life, yet had already left this world in his mind. That was the first time I met my master, of whom I had no idea I would devote my life to. But that was the last time I saw him till I was eighteen.
“Mother, have you perhaps met Master Daniel?” I asked suddenly while helping her in the kitchen. “I only saw him once and that was even years ago. Is he always out of town?”
“Laura, I have no idea how you met him but that should be the last time.” She direly said as if warning and placed some of the ingredients into the boiling pot. “Daniel is no Master in this house but the baroness, so you better be cautious. Keep in mind not to involve yourself to him in any way, otherwise we lose our job and we become homeless slaves instead.”
“Why, mother?” As innocent as I was before, I had no idea Daniel’s presence was a threat to Mrs. Amanda’s fortune.
“Why don’t you just focus on your work, Laura? Mrs. Amanda’s children are most probably half an hour away from here. We have to finish the dishes quick.” She uttered in quite annoyance and cut the uncooked meat into half.
“I don’t like them mother. They’re too picky.” I responded bitterly.
“Well you better start getting used to it dear. Besides, I think Arthur is a good match for you. I’ve seen him steal glances at you since they first visit in the mansion.” She teased that I almost choked in surprise.
“Mother, how can you say that? Please, I don’t like him. And besides, why would Mrs. Amanda let her precious son marry a maidservant?”
“Oh, have I not told you that before your father died, his request to Mrs. Amanda is to find you a husband with enough fortune for you to live well? In fact the two had a close relationship even I do not know. Mrs. Amanda perhaps agreed to it out of remorse to your Father.”
So that must be the reason why out of the maids in the mansion, my mother and I seemed to be the most favored. But then that had made me wonder of the kind of relationship my father and Mrs. Amanda really had. Mrs. Amanda was not the type of person who shows remorse or pity to anyone, so it was a surprise that she kept us because of my father.
“Mrs. Carpenter,” a maidservant rushed in the kitchen and called my mother, “Lady Catherine and Lord Arthur have arrived at the gate. We better prepare the table now.”
“Very well, help me here.” She said positively, and turning to me, “Laura, call the other maids for extra hands.”
“Okay, mother.” I merely replied and went out immediately, doing what she asked me to.
“Mrs. Carpenter needs your help in the kitchen.” I told some maids I met on my way.
“Laura,” a maid I rarely see suddenly called me and pulled me at the corner; her voice sounded weak and weary, as if something unfortunate occurred. “I know I can’t ask you to do this but I just can’t do it anymore. I’m scared of him. He won’t drink his medicine, he gets mad at me, and he blames me, Laura…”
I shushed her straightaway before I get confused of her spontaneous speech, and then gradually, I asked, “tell me what should I do, and I will do my best to help.”
“If you could help me persuade Master Daniel to drink his medicine…”
“Master Daniel?” I was stunned to hear his name again. Mother just told me a while ago not to involve myself to him in any possible way yet how could I refuse a frightened maid over here? Ever since I met him I’d been curious of his identity—of where and how was he living only to find out now that he was actually here, in this mansion where I live!
“Yes, his room is on the fourth, the isolated one in the north hall.” She then gave me the tray of medicine that I was to take to the Master.
“Laura,” she spoke just before I was about to leave, “I hope this stays between the two of us. Even your mother cannot know of this.” She cautioned and with that I nodded in abrupt agreement and left to see the Master I had been longing to meet again.
The feeling of excitement, at the same time uneasiness lingers over me as I take my step toward his door—a door where a room so forlorn existed. I shivered as I walked my way through the abandoned hall—it was the scariest, most awful part of the mansion and to think Daniel had been living in here, I began to wonder why, how, and since when. How is a Master a prisoner?
“How many maidservants does she have to fire for me? How many innocent maids does she have to accuse of putting poison in my medicine just to clear her name? Can’t she see I’m completely helpless? I’m imprisoned in here, while she enjoys the wealth of my family. My Father can’t even see that. And I could foresee by now that when my father dies, I’d be thrown out by my own house. She’s been longing for it; If not for my father, then my death.” I found him seating on a chair near his bed, voicing out his thoughts while staring at the window.
“My lord, I’ve come to bring your medicine. The maidservant who has just been here wasn’t able to do her duty.” I spoke gently, afraid to make him angry even to me.
“So you came instead of her?” He asked in exasperation, still not turning to me.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Has she also gained your loyalty? Has she finally put poison in it?” I believed he was asking about Mrs. Amanda, for it was only her who would do such a thing.
He walked to the table where I placed a tray of water and his medicine. I was yet to pour the liquid to his cup when he took it and did it himself. Without hesitation, he drank it and finished it off, as if he grew tired of this routine.
“I’m tired. You may leave.” He said and walked back to his chair. His life must be so tedious, and I sensed he was starting to hate it. This room was his only life. Even his maids that had probably become his friends were taken from him. Oh, how could a man live like this? How could someone be so cruel to him? I wanted to talk to him. I longed to see him ever since we met that day. But I had a feeling he wouldn’t trust me. I was frightened that he might have decided not to trust someone, for it was as if all his life were full of lies!
In my pocket was the sketch he left me when we were children. I had always carried it with me hoping to see him again, thinking if he would remember me as his friend Laura by showing the field of roses he drew. So before I left I placed the folded paper on his table, and then silently, walked out of the lonely room.
“Laura, where in the world have you been? All the maids have been busy serving the lady Catherine and lord Arthur yet you seem to have your own business.” My mother scolded as soon as I arrived in the kitchen. She was still busy cooking, perhaps the siblings asked for another dish again.
“Have you been crying?” She asked upon seeing my eyes almost filled with tears. I must say since I left Daniel’s room, I was utterly troubled, as if my heart was carrying a lifetime burden.
“Is that medicine?” She then pointed out to the tray I was holding. Still unable to speak, I simply nodded.
“Laura, did you just bring medicine to Daniel?”
“You knew he should be drinking medicine?” I questioned, dumfounded as I was still. “Have you always known that he was imprisoned, in his own mansion?”
“Yes, and you better explain to me why on earth where you there young lady. But right now we have many things to do and certainly there is no time for further discussions.” She said in a hurry while I, helplessly, went outside and see if I could be of any help to anyone.
I went to the dining table and volunteered to pour wine to their glasses. I hated to see the cruel Mrs. Amanda right now, but I have to show her, for the sake of my mother as well that I was a loyal and a willing servant of her household.
“Oh, thank you, Laura.” She greeted.
I smiled politely and bowed my head a little, and as I walked backwards to my position I noticed Arthur’s eyes on me as if my mother’s thoughts of his interest on me was true. I had to admit he became even more handsome than before, but still I couldn’t like him. I swore I couldn’t like this household of cruelty.
“Lord Peter must have really liked you.” Amy, the maid beside me whispered as she probably noticed Peter’s stare as well. I sighed and slightly shook my head in opposition.
“I better help my mother in the kitchen.” I passed her the wine I was holding and again went out of the dining hall. I couldn’t stand seeing Mrs. Amanda, apparently, and realizing I hated to see my mother as well, I decided to just leave the gates for a moment; perhaps what I needed was some fresh air to ease off my mind.
To where I usually go whenever I feel upset or missing my childhood years was where I was off to now. It was a peaceful garden close to the image of my dream place, quite far from the mansion. However to be able to reach the place I had to step on rough roads filled with rocks and pebbles and cross a stream. Not to mention tree branches that sometimes block my way when tangled to another. It was a forest before the garden located uphill.
I was then starting to wonder how Master Daniel found my secret garden when it was this far from the mansion. It was no difficult for me to stroll around and discover new places since we moved here given that my mother rarely needs me, but for Master Daniel it was strange.
“What kind of a maid leaves her Masters when she’s on duty?” A manly voice suddenly came from behind that I almost jumped in surprise.
It was Arthur, for goodness’ sake. “Have you been following me?” I asked bluntly.
“Perhaps; I’m more curious to where you’re going.”
I sighed in exasperation and walked ahead, heaving another branch of a tree away from my face. “I think I’m almost there.”
“That’s great news, finally.” He groaned as though he had been so exhausted along the way.
As I was finally stepping on the green lush shrubbery, all the difficulties and hard work I just had was paid off. Even more relief I felt when I caught sight of the sprouting flowers this season of spring. And then again, the fresh memory I had with Master Daniel would always cross my mind.
“By the way, what are you doing here? How did you follow me without even knowing?” I asked, distracted. It was the first time someone actually came here with me except of course when I met Daniel.
He raised a brow and crossed his arms, as if I said something offensive. “Since when did a maid talk so coarsely to her master?” He proudly uttered, arrogant as typical.
“Forgive me, lord Arthur. It’s just that I did not expect you would follow me.”
“…seems like my mother has spoiled her maids in the household.”
“I’m sorry, again my lord. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you by the way I spoke.” I apologized, biting my tongue before it was to speak another vulgar language.
“It’s alright with me though. I mean, the way you speak. You’re an exception. You’re going to be my future wife anyway.”
“Excuse me, my lord?” I abruptly responded, shocked of what I just heard. His proud mouth and utter arrogance was unbelievable.
“Has your mother not told you that I like you? And since you’ve come to age I presume I will have no problems courting you.”
“I’m surprised of what you just said, I…”
“Of course you are. I’m not rushing you anyway. Just so you know,” He then took a step forward, and then another till he was just an inch away. I just stood there like a statue, frozen and unknowing.
“I swear today that I will win your heart, Laura.”
I feel my cheeks flushed and I pray he wouldn’t notice for I would be totally embarrassed. I was then about to step backward, a little distant from him when he grabbed me by waist and pulled me closer.
“My lord please, you cannot…”
“God knows how much I long for you Laura. I think I’m even crazy about you.”
I looked at him in his eyes and saw his sincerity. All these years I only knew of him as the horrid, proud, and unkind son of Mrs. Amanda. Though I knew and felt his interest toward me, I never knew he had this kind of earnestness.
Realizing I was beginning to feel awkward, he let go of his hold and gradually, I was able to breathe normally.
“Forgive me. I must have really shocked you. Forgive me, Laura, I must go.” He said, this time I felt his humility.
“My lord,” I called, stopping him. “Let’s go together…”
He smiled at that, as if I was giving him a sign that he could have me, though in my mind I was only offering a friendship. He then stretched his hand to me, but I was quite hesitant if I would accept or not till he said, “The road out there is dangerous. It would be better if you have someone to hold on.”
I smiled and politely held his hand. For a moment I did feel my heart flutter.