Two months pass by and it's getting cold
“Mother”, Annabelle whispered, “where is Katherine?” Charlotte looked up from her book; one of the few that hadn’t been burned by northern soldiers who had ravaged the house when Annabelle had been away. Poetry, she noted, and came to think about the collection of poems she had brought to Mrs. Ericsson.
Right now, Annabelle was indoors, because after John so abruptly left her on the porch, she waited for a moment and then walked in too. She didn’t want to be alone anymore. She hadn’t spoken with Simone, for Annabelle was no longer the person she had been when she left her home for the first time, and it felt as if she no longer knew who Simone was - or who she was herself. It seemed like Killian had taken the part of her that she knew, and left her with nothing but a shadow of herself; a stranger.
Charlotte looked hesitantly at her daughter, and swallowed.
“Katherine... She is not feeling well, Annabelle”, she said, and her face suddenly seemed so broken. She guessed that it was death that haunted her.
“Mother.” Annabelle tried to take calm, deep breaths, “where is she?” Charlotte looked down.
“I have Simone to look after her-“, she began, but Annabelle interrupted her.
“Where is she, mother?” Charlotte brought her hand to her forehead.
“In her room. Please, Annabelle, stay calm. She will be all right.” Annabelle nodded briefly, and then turned away. Katherine, she thought quietly to herself, I’m so sorry.
The room was hidden in a quiet darkness, so thick that Annabelle almost could touch it. The door had been open, and she had sneaked in.
“Simone”, she whispered now, and broke the otherwise eternal silence.
“Sch”, her friend replied, and seconds after she felt a warm hand take hold of her cool arm. Simone led her out the door, and soon they found themselves in one of the house’s long corridors, where the walls were adorned by hard doors hanging like paintings in an art museum. Annabelle opened her mouth, and was just about to ask what was going on, when Simone began to speak.
“Please, Miss Annabelle, Miss Katherine has finally fallen asleep. Let us not wake her.” Then she threw a thoughtful glance at Annabelle’s outfit, which now consisted of a pair of white trousers and a loose shirt, both found in her father’s forsaken wardrobe.
“Are you wearing trousers? Didn’t you see that I brought out a dress for you; a new one that your mother made?” Annabelle raised surprising on her right eyebrow, and looked at her maid with a confused look in her eyes. “Don’t wear men’s clothing. It’s wrong, Miss Annabelle, and it doesn’t suit you”, Simone continued, without having noticed Annabelle’s gaze.
“Simone”, Annabelle said, her words hard and clear as to mark her new self, and also to prepare Simone for what she was going to say. “First of all, I would prefer if you no longer addressed me as ‘Miss Annabelle’. Annabelle is more than enough. Secondly, I have the right to decide what to wear, and if I have chosen these trousers instead of a dress, I stand by it and don’t intend to change my mind regardless of what others say. We are all unique, Simone, though we are all the same on the inside. Tell me; do you think that our souls are different? Do they have different colors? Do some of them wear beautiful dresses while others, less worthy, go dressed in rags? Do you think that some are women and some are men?” Annabelle paused, but only for a short while, for she didn’t plan for Simone to respond.
“No, Simone”, she continued, “because our souls are alike. But are they worth the same, then? No, they’re not.” Simone lowered her gaze, and if she ever regretted anything she said to Annabelle, this was it. “They should be”, Annabelle whispered, “for they are the same. Just as we are on the outside too, even if that’s just a shell. Who, then, have decided these differences between us, that we are of different value only by the color of our skin, or whether we are male or female? Who do you think, Simone, can be so selfish that they think they can decide whether you should be a slave or free, or if I should get to wear trousers? Who do you think could be so evil?”
Simone shook her head, and Annabelle gave her a gentle smile. Then she turned around and walked into the hidden room, to Katherine, and never once saw back to see if Simone stood there or if she was gone.
“I’m so sorry, Katherine”, Annabelle whispered, so quietly that no one would have been able to make out the words. “It’s all my fault.” She gently caressed her sleeping sister’s pale cheek, and removed a brown curl from her cheek. Katherine’s eyebrows were lowered, and she turned in her bed. The brown hair lay like a thick pillow under her little head, entangled into one big ball.
Annabelle suddenly noticed how broken the little girl seemed, the girl who once was illuminated by joy and happiness. Nowadays, she was nothing but a pale shadow of the person she once was, just like Annabelle, and all the others that the war had touched.
“Forgive me, Katherine”, Annabelle continued, in a voice whose stability no longer could be trusted. It hurt her so to see how the little girl’s life faded away, how her happiness was slowly disappearing, that Annabelle had to close her eyes so that all the sorrow she tried to bury wouldn’t rise again. It hurt so much, and it was so hard, that she had to open her eyes again, for she couldn’t bear to stop looking at the girl in front of her. The closed eyes, the bright pink little mouth and the white skin against the dark lashes would haunt her, she knew, but Annabelle had to look at her. She couldn’t make the same mistakes as she made with her father, or Killian; she wouldn’t let Katherine leave her like they had. She couldn’t.
“Oh, Katherine”, she murmured quietly, and patted her softly on the warm cheek. She didn’t know what else to do, other than to let time pass and hope for the best. She thought of Killian’s words; I wasn’t meant to be saved, and suddenly a stone fell from her heart, a stone that had downed her too many days, and she tried to smile.
Katherine was too young; it couldn’t be her turn, she was still supposed to be saved many times over. She suddenly remembered how bad Killian had been, the day he died. Katherine wasn’t like him at all. She also remembered Alice’s words, those she said once when Annabelle worried for a young soldier’s life, and immediately everything felt so much better.
“Thank you”, she whispered, and got an idea. She gently took the little girl left hand in hers, and slowly began to sing. But unlike before, she didn’t sing for the girl to die in peace. She sang to bring her back to life.
The next morning the sky was obscured by a gray, dark blanket, so thick that not a single ray of sunshine could reach through. Annabelle woke up early, with a feeling that rain and thunder were coming.
She dressed quickly, and went up to the big window, one of the few that hadn’t been crushed by passing men from the north. The mist shaded the tall oaks, and the soft grass was concealed under a blanket of gray, like the sky. A single bird was seen on the colorless sky, and Annabelle shivered. It flew freely like a black arrow against the ashen background, and made the trees look as if they were standing still.
“Oh”, Annabelle sighed, and leaned closer to the window. Then she turned around and spread out her arms like wings. It felt free, and so daring that the girl couldn’t help but lean her head back.
She closed her eyes and imagined how she flew across the sky, with wings as white as newly fallen snow. Her eyes were black, tired of scanning over the rugged land that slowly spread underneath her, filling her views and made her feel dizzy. She saw the trees’ soft crowns, shimmering of hundreds of tiny raindrops. She saw the fog too, which lay like a soft veil over the ground, and she saw at once how beautiful the colors mixed together. It was gray, it was green, and here and there were shades of black and brown. Sometimes there were also white details, such as the family’s big house, and the fluffy, white clouds above her, and also streaks of light blue. Here the sun always shone.
She laughed, and let the air under her wings make itself remembered, and before she knew it she was carried away by the wind over the glistening hills and its soft shapes, over forests and misty meadows bigger than she ever could have imagined. She flew near the white clouds, where the sun shone light and warm and where birds sang, where life was easier and almost too few tears were shed. She flew to places where the war didn’t exist, where people lived in peace and where the sun never ever was hidden behind dark clouds.
The rain pattered peacefully against broken glass, and small puddles of water formed here and there in the house.
“Annabelle?” It was her mother, Charlotte, who quietly called out her name. Annabelle saw her mother as she stood on the top step of the staircase. “I’m coming, mother”, she replied, and hurried up the stairs.
“It’s Katherine”, Charlotte said, and gently took Annabelle’s hand, “she has woken up. Would you be so kind as to go and see her? I do not feel good enough to do so myself.” Annabelle avoided looking into her mother’s pleading eyes, for she knew that her longing for Dean and Sam and father tormented her, haunted her, every second.
She knew there were moments when Charlotte bitterly regretted not having stayed in the cold, dark country they traveled over the sea to get away from. She couldn’t do it anymore; she couldn’t keep her life when everyone she loved fell dead before her.
But no matter how horrible it was, Annabelle couldn’t see it other than that her mother was nothing but a human, just like everyone else. Throughout her childhood, she had always looked up to Charlotte, who had been more like a goddess than a mother, but now she understood. Annabelle nodded silently as answer, and then went quickly up the stairs.
The little girl’s eyes glittered faintly in the silent darkness.
“Belle?” Annabelle smiled, and her heart ached.
“Yes, it’s me, Katherine”, she whispered, trying to hold back her tears. She could see how the little girl looked at her, astonished.
“Other Belle?” Katherine asked, quiet and a little shy, and Annabelle hurried to shake her curly head.
“No, sweetie, it’s the same Annabelle as it always has been.” Then she went quickly towards her sister and hugged her frail little body.
“I missed Belle”, Katherine murmured against Annabelle’s throat, and she smiled.
“I missed you too, my little princess”, she replied, “but now I’m home again.” The little girl laughed weakly.
“Never leave again”, she laughed, and Annabelle laughed, too, and weak tears glistened in her hazel eyes.
“I promise”, she said, and held the girl harder. “You must never leave me either, then.”
“I’ll never leave Belle”, Katherine murmured as she yawned, and in that moment Annabelle forgot all the sorrows that usually burdened her so much she barely couldn’t breathe.
“Simone suspects that she is suffering from tuberculosis”, Charlotte said, and put a hand to her forehead, “I don’t know what to do with myself.” Annabelle, who stood leaning against the gray wall, suddenly raised her head.
“What? No, mother, it’s not tuberculosis, believe me.” Charlotte gave her a surprised look.
“Since when do you know such things?” Her mother didn’t believe her, she knew that. She sighed deeply, and thought for a second of telling them about Killian. Then she realized that it probably wasn’t such a good idea.
“Since you sent me deep into the forest”, she answered instead, and she wasn’t lying. Charlotte turned to Simone, who also stood in the room and was part of the conversation.
“It should be tuberculosis”, she said quietly, afraid to oppose Annabelle, especially after what happened yesterday. “I recognize the symptoms.” Annabelle sighed deeply and raised her eyebrows sarcastically.
“Really? So do i. Katherine doesn’t have tuberculosis.” Her mother shook frustrated on her head.
“What, then, Annabelle?” Annabelle shrugged.
“I don’t know. It’s not chickenpox, not diphtheria nor scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles or mumps... But it’s not tuberculosis, I can swear to it.” Then she remembered something. “Have you had any other, unknown diseases in the house when I was gone?” Charlotte shook again on her head, but Simone nodded eagerly.
“Mr. Tyler! He fell ill with an unknown disease, and subsequently died shortly thereafter.” Annabelle nodded.
“Continue. What were his symptoms?”
“Headache, he claimed, but also fever, cough, muscle aches, and if I recall correctly, he also had this strange, red rash on his stomach.” Annabelle furrowed her eyebrows. She remembered the symptoms from when she took care of soldiers at Mrs. Ericsson. The disease had been there; actually, it had been more common than tuberculosis. It had affected the men in silence, creeping over them until it had them completely under control. She knew what it was.
“Typhoid fever”, she whispered. Simone and Charlotte looked questioningly at her. “Typhoid fever. Have you never heard of it? The mortality rate is high, and if it is typhoid fever that Katherine is suffering from, we are probably all infected.” Charlotte and Simone exchanged startled glances, and the color of their faces fell to the floor with a bang. Annabelle shook her head.
“First of all: Have any of these symptoms occurred on Katherine? Has she complained of headache, or has she had a fever? Have you discovered the same strange rash?” A dark silence filled the room. “Think! If she is infected, we have no time to lose. Then we must get medicine quick. Unfortunately, there is no cure for typhoid fever, only lighter treatments that can slow the disease down. The chance that she will recover completely, if she is affected, is small, but the sooner we begin to treat her...” Annabelle swallowed. She still had hope; no one could take that away from her. Not after everything that had happened.
“So think. Has Katherine shown any symptoms?” Simone opened her mouth as if to answer, but Charlotte was faster.
“Not that I know of, no.” Annabelle took a deep breath, and everything became so much easier. Simone also shook on her head, and Annabelle tried to hold back a smile.
“Good. Is there something else I don’t know about? Have you had other sudden deaths, or noticeably visible illnesses?” Once again her mother and Simone saw at each other, even though their glance wasn’t as frightened this time.
“No, not that I can think of”, Simone murmured, and turned down her head. Annabelle sighed indignantly.
“Then I guess it’s just for us to wait and see”, she said.