Anna could hear him bellowing her name as he stormed through the upstairs rooms, throwing open doors and knocking over furniture in his haste find her. Silently she opened the front door and walked down the steps to the circular drive. It was raining heavily, but she barely noticed the sting of the cold water as it dripped through her clothes, soaking her to the bone. She turned and looked back at the imposing white mansion at the same moment as a dark figure moved past the window in the upstairs library, briefly blotting out the candlelight. Soon he would finish his search for her up there and he would come back downstairs to find her. The rain would not stop him seeking her outside and there was nowhere left to hide.
It had been raining on the night she arrived at Colton Manor six months earlier with only a battered travelling case to her name. Dusk was falling as the carriage rounded the bend and she caught sight of the manor for the very first time. It was perched on the edge of a cliff with the ocean as its backdrop, creating a dramatic first impression. The manor was more like a castle than a house, and even shrouded in misty rain it was quite spectacular. Anna should have been thrilled with her grand new home which was so different from the world she had left behind. Instead she was overcome with a strong desire to turn and flee.
Putting her nerves down to excitement she had smiled at her new husband and linked her arm through his. She remembered how Edward had turned to look at her, but in place of the familiar warmth in his eyes she had grown to love, there was only coldness. It was as if the house had cast some kind of spell over him, and from that moment onwards he began to change. Gone was the charming, handsome man who had swept into her life like a prince from a fairy tale, stealing her heart and rescuing her from a life of drudgery as a kitchen maid. This man was jealous, sadistic and paranoid. He took great delight in terrorising her, and his cruelty had become more pronounced each day.
It began with pinches and name calling when she did something to displease him and then progressed to open-handed slaps that left marks which lingered on her flesh for hours. When he started using his fists, Anna found a way to block out the pain by retreating to a place deep inside where he could not reach her. In addition to the beatings he also liked to twist her fingers until she begged him to stop, and just two nights earlier he had held her face so close to the fire that her hair caught alight. He had laughed at her terror and done nothing to help her put out the flames.
For months Anna had continued to hope and pray that he would change back into the man she knew, but on that terrible night she’d finally been forced to face the truth. Her life with him had become unbearable, and his violence towards her would only get worse. She could not tolerate the thought of bringing a child into such a loveless, brutal marriage.
“Anna, where are you? You know you can’t hide from me forever. I’ll make you pay for this.” He was downstairs now, and it was only a matter of time till he threw open the heavy front doors and found her standing there in the rain. For the first time since she had arrived at Colton Manor she was not afraid of him. “What have you done with my money? I’ll wring your neck till you tell me where it is, woman.”
He had grown convinced over the past few months that she and the servants were conspiring to steal his money, and he’d gone to great lengths to hide his fortune. He’d dismissed every single member of the staff and taken to locking Anna is her room while he transferred his money from one hiding place to another. Sometimes it seemed there were other people in the house with him because she heard different voices, and they chanted strange words that filled her with dread. When he was alone he muttered to himself and paced the floor until Anna began to fear he had completely lost his mind. She spent these hours huddled in the corner of her room, listening intently for the sound of his footsteps on the stairs.
“I swear to God I’m going to kill you if you don’t come out right now and tell me where my money is,” he yelled again. He was very close to the front door now, and she did not have much time left. Without another glance at the house that had brought her so much misery she made her way to the edge of the gardens and then down the path towards the cliff. Only a short time ago these gardens had been manicured and beautiful, but like everything else at Colton Manor they were neglected, and the grass and tangled weeds were now almost up to her knees. It was a moonless night and she couldn’t see far in front of her, but the endless, rhythmic sound of the ocean drew her forward and gave her comfort. Its song was soothing and familiar, almost as if it was calling her home.
When she reached the cliff there was just enough light for her to make out the waves crashing onto the rocks below. Only the rain wet her cheeks as she contemplated what she was about to do. She was far beyond tears now. There really was no other way out for her. If she tried to leave him he would simply hunt her down and drag her back again, and her life would become even worse than it was. She had no money and no family to protect her. She was all alone in the world, and no one would miss her when she was gone. She had been foolish to believe that things could ever be any different for a poor woman like her, and she was about to pay the ultimate price for her foolishness.
He was on the path now, walking towards her, a bulky shape moving heavily in the darkness.
“Anna, I see you, don’t think you can get away from me, wench. There’s nowhere to run.” Anna turned around, and with slumped shoulders she walked obediently up the incline towards him. “You are a fool if you believe there is any escape for you.”
When she was several feet from the cliff she turned back again, and then suddenly she ran, pushing out with her foot as far as she could when she reached the edge of the cliff. For a second she seemed to hang in the air, suspended in mid-flight, and then she began her descent to the sharp rocks below.
The scream that tore from her throat was not one of fear, but rather of release as she let go of all the anguish and suffering she’d endured at the hands of the man who had vowed to honour and protect her. She felt no sadness or regret as her body sliced through the cold night air. For a few moments she had known what it felt like to fly, and it was exhilaration, not fear, that filled her heart even as she plummeted towards her death. At last she was free.
Colton Manor is available for 99 cents on Amazon.