Rain batters my face as the coachman unlocks the carriage door. I can tell by his distressed look that he and Albert are in full agreement about staying at the manor.
He stands close, yelling through the gale. “I’ve harnessed the white Hungarian stallion, Madame. His breeding is the best for the weather. We’ll take only one steed today.”
The coachman is dressed entirely in black, as am I, almost like we’d planned it.
Wind whips the hood from my head, churning my hair. The lavender pick comb I had so carefully positioned has blown out and completely disappeared – long uncontrolled curls reel around my head, temporarily blinding me.
The coachman continues shouting. “Our journey will take us over the Howardian Hills and round the bend of the River Derwent, a precarious passage on a good day. You’ll need to sit very tight, Madame, gripping the sides. I expect an uneven and arduous passage.”
The coachman struggles to close my door against a forceful gust. I step inside, the sound of the latch clicking shut behind me. The ferocity of the weather does not go unnoticed, violently shaking the hinges of the door. The storm has become worse, the animals have been sheltered and outside tools put away. We pull from the yard, cautiously, under a blackened sky.
The carriage moves slowly, swaying in the wind. The gentle clop of horse’s hooves that normally comforts me, have been extinguished. Instead, we travel for twenty long minutes to a sound like howling coming from the moors, a reverberation I find both worrisome and alarming. I’d cover my ears to block it but require both hands to steady myself.
I should have stayed home. I know that. Pride stopped me, and the need to assert my will above Albert’s, but now reality has hit and the perilous consequences of my naive decision. What have I done? My heart pounds in my chest. We’ve gone too far to turn back. I close my eyes, searching for answers.
“Dear God in heaven, if you are there. Forgive my foolishness and calm this day. I fear I have put us all in danger.”
The carriage rocks from side to side, tipping in the wind.
“Hear my plea. Make this journey swift and safe. I have been unwise and thoughtless. Forgive me and I shall never be so impetuous or hasty again.”
Forty minutes pass. I am white from exhaustion. I lift the side curtain, barely able to glimpse the river. We’ve made it safely across the hills but the bend in the road is sightless. Surely we are out of danger, as no others would be rounding the bend on such a dark and treacherous day. I lift both curtains, shifting away from the river, anticipating a glimpse of Crambe, hoping we’ve come that far.
But instead of spires from the hamlet, my ears are pierced by terror. The Hungarian stallion rears, squealing in horror as he attempts to avoid an avalanche of rock plummeting from the cliff’s rim. Jagged edges dig into his body, gouging his flesh. The stallion bolts, running wildly from the road. I watch in horror as leather driving reins fly past my window and the coachman’s shrieking body sails into the ravine.
I am immediately flung into space, lurch with arms extended toward the ceiling and then slammed against the door, my forehead opening into a geyser of blood. The coach is dragged on its side, rolling and twisting, being pitched against trees and rock as it careens the bank toward the river. I scream into nothing as time slows and just as quickly turns to darkness.
I am cold when I wake and sore, my body anguished with pain. I crawl slowly in twinged torture through a buggy window, viewing a scene of devastation. There are rocks, an angry river and a fallen white horse. I wear a torn coat and single laced boot. My hands appear bruised, smelling sour. I inch toward the animal, hugging his body for warmth. I am black, he is white and we are both covered with earth. I watch a river of red flow from his body, as I close my eyes to welcome sleep.