From A Distance

Entry by: Freya

28th July 2016
From a distance

From a distance he appeared rather merry, she admitted to herself, frowning. Wasn’t he meant to be grief-stricken, heart broken and remorseful? Cornelia reached to her pocket and brushed the envelope containing Edward’s letter with her tentative fingers. ‘Unable to swallow a thing’, ‘wasting away’ were his very words penned in the blood-coloured ink. And yet as she squinted she could clearly sight his pronounced belly protruding through the unbuttoned officer’s coat. He was slender the last time she saw him a few months before.

She shifted and hid behind the brick wall of the derelict tenement house. In the empty street her white petticoat could be too easily spotted even during a night as foggy as this one and she wanted to observe him unnoticed.

Edward’s long hair, braided in a flat ponytail resting on one of his broad shoulders, glossed with health. His cheeks bore a trace of perspiration but they, by no means, could be described as hollow and pallid. He looked like someone who had had a bit too much of good wine. Perhaps he tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol? She mused. But then his companion, a young man clad in a craftsman’s garb, patted him on a shoulder sharing a joke and the two burst with laughter. And not a shallow chuckle, a full-bellied cheer of someone with no care in the world.

She felt her blood boiling in her veins. Here was she, barely able to take a stride, fatigued after weeks of confinement, while he could grin unconcerned. If her father had guessed what she'd agreed to go through for this man, he would have shot the bastard. Yes, that’s what he deserved to be called even if he was so dear to her.

She froze. A lady was approaching, her dress speckled with an abundance of bows and ribbons in loud colours. Cornelia blushed, hearing a throaty chortle escaping the lady as she placed her palm on Edward’s belly in a familiar way. His hand landed gingerly on the lady’s hip. Cornelia held her breath. Not only had he left her on her own with her, with their, burden, but spared no time finding her replacement. Edward’s famished eyes followed lady’s exposed cleavage as she erupted with another bout of vulgar joy. Surely Edward wouldn’t consider marrying a woman of easy virtue, even if the lady was as beautiful as this one?

Cornelia caught her own reflection in the glass door next to her. Slim, with symmetrical yet common features, a rather pointy nose and the skin more yellowish than white after weeks spent indoors. She brushed her belly. It hadn’t yet returned to its usual flatness. Only thanks to her roomy dress could she hide she had recently been with child.

How the little thing wailed for her when she was leaving. She clenched her teeth at the painful memory. The wee pair of feet, a tiny round belly, eyes blue as the lagoon she visited during her Positano's excursion. She had left him despite his heart ranching cries, despite every cell of her body wanting to caress him. The peasant woman promised to care for him but Cornelia just couldn’t picture it now. How could she afford raising a stranger’s baby when her own offspring had barely enough to eat? Cornelia’s money would provide for the family for weeks, perhaps months, but what then? The wee thing would waste away, malnourished and neglected. Could she take him back to her home and beg mercy of her father? She trembled. No, her father wouldn’t forgive her. He would throw them both on the street and how would they survive? If Edward only…

Her eyes wandered back to her lover and his companions. The lady presented a bottle of liquor, greeted by the men with a cheer. Cornelia gazed around. Weren’t they worried a policeman would spot them drinking on the street?

The church clock struck eleven. Cornelia should be on her way back. She promised her maid faithfully she would return within an hour. She hoped to surprise Edward. He was stationed in the barracks not far from this gloomy cul-de-sac. She looked self-consciously around her. This was the last place where an unaccompanied young lady from a good family should venture at this hour. She shivered. The northerly wind cut through the layers of her clothing. She could catch a cold in her delicate state if she didn’t return home at once.

Would Edward marry her? She wondered. Would he still want it? She didn’t believe she would persuade her father to welcome a fourth son from a lowly family with a meagre income as a son-in-law but this didn’t matter if Edward lost his interest altogether. The pregnancy spoiled Cornelia’s beauty. Not that she had had too much of it to start with. But Edward ensured he loved her despite her imperfect looks. He promised they would be together, no matter what. Alas, he couldn’t accompany her to the countryside. She had barely seen him in the last months. If she was to be honest with herself, his interest expired the moment she announced she was with child. Not that he showed it. He played his role well but he shrank from contact since then. It was only that she refused to accept it. He was busy with his army duty, running errands for the general, visiting his elderly parents in Kent, busy wasting away without her. And she bought all these excuses uncomplaining.

She felt dizzy and leaned heavier on the wall. Her belly still ached and she had a distinct feeling of something wet and sticky billowing down her thigh. That was nothing. Hours after the delivery that was to be expected. She didn’t have the time to rest properly. As soon as her waters had broken, she called a cabby to the train station. Ignoring the pain, she got on the train and reached the village where in a tiny cottage the peasant woman dwelled with her numerous family. She bit her lips and kept her legs together tightly throughout the journey. She thanked the providence it had started early morning and nobody noticed her leaving home. She penned a brief message to the servants notifying them that she would be sleeping over at her friend. Father would never let her spend the night out of home. But he was away hunting and her brother had other things occupying him. Nobody minded her absence. It didn’t take her long anyway. This very morning, a couple of hours after her labour had finished, she was back on the train, exhausted but free off her burden. Free to start afresh. But would she ever forget? Would she forgive herself? Edward persuaded her that after they would marry she could adopt the child. He vouched for the peasant woman’s good heart. But could he be trusted?

Cornelia noticed her lover’s hand dropped to the lady’s bottom, squeezing it. The lady did not appear to mind, still smiling. She lifted the bottle to Edward’s mouth, encouraging him to enjoy himself.

Cornelia’s knees then gave way. How tired she felt, how cold. She squatted, still hiding behind the wall. Just a few more minutes and she would be ready to stroll back home. She just needed to gather her strength. She exhaled deeply and looked back to the trio in front of her. Edward’s friend put an arm around her lover and directed him towards a nearby dark alley. The lady followed, giggling throatily.

Cornelia rubbed her eyes. They seemed misty out of a sudden. The liquid flew down her legs undisturbed. That was the time to move but she couldn’t stand straight. Perhaps if she took a brief nap, she would have more energy? Being alone on the street no longer bothered her. She yawned.

A movement raised her from her stupor. Something silver glossed in the air. A sparkling blade was passed from the lady to the man, behind Edward’s back. Cornelia’s eyes widened, her mouth formed a warning but her powers vacated her. She dropped to the ground. She merely observed as the blade pierced Edward’s chest in a series of quick stubs. As the lady pressed her carmine shawl to his mouth, Edward could utter no protest. He fell and convulsed in the puddle of blood. The murderers then cut away his pouch. Their chuckles echoed long after they vanished into the foggy night.

The two of them remained. Cornelia crawled towards her lover. At a close distance he appeared to her rather commonplace, a fat, middle-aged man. A charming hero of their secret courtship was gone. As the last breath escaped her tormented body, she wondered how she could have allowed herself to be that blind.