The Truth of the Betrayer
“You infuriate me,” was the first thing to leave Millicent’s tinted lips the moment that Mr. Atwin opened to door to the young woman trying to stand just far enough under the archway to escape the afternoon showers.
“Hello to you too,” William smiled effortlessly back. “Do come in. And feel free to share with me why I vex you so.”
Millicent shoved past the man, still trying to contain the unfamiliar feeling of desire that she punished herself for. He was a man not to be reckoned with. He was not a good man, she tried so very hard to remind herself. “You come here to my family’s home under false pretenses, and continue to see me un-supervised while my mother sits in that manor house wasting away when I could be spending my time with her. And for all I know, you could be a God-awful painter!”
“You know that is not true. You have seen my other drawings Millicent. And if you would allow me to paint your portrait in a more private fashion, then you could see exactly what I am capable of,” Mr. Atwin assured her. “But you are also wrong about the false pretenses… to start out with at least. I knew your father before the war, and he was kind enough to offer me a bed and food to fill my belly while I try to get back on my feet with other jobs. Mr. Yultiere was an unforeseen situation that I was not originally planning for.”
“Why have there been men following me then?” whispered Millicent distantly.
William narrowed his eyes at the woman, hinting more at confusion than understanding. “What do you speak of?” he asked her with a voice of concern arising.
“The men you’ve had sent to follow my every move so as to ensure I don’t slip up when speaking with anyone in my everyday life.”
William shook his head, still confused, and more concerned than before for her safety. “Millicent. I don’t know what you are speaking of. I’ve haven’t had you followed… Why would I when I’m the one who-,” Mr. Atwin cut short when he realized what he was about to reveal.
Millicent narrowed her eyes at the man apprehensively. Feeling a deep and worrisome shudder in the pit of her stomach. “You are the one who what?” she barely found the strength to whisper. Swallowing the fear of hearing the truth, Millicent closed the space between the two of them and stared Mr. Atwin in the eye as she fought back her own tears. “Who the hell are you and why are you here?”
Lightning cracked across the grey England skies, followed shortly by the distant roll of thunder. The house fell silent as the floorboards groaned under their weight. The soft rain pattered against the glass window panes behind the thin linen curtains.
Mr. Atwin felt his stomach swirl and his thoughts race as he looked into the beautiful eyes of the young woman, to be forever clouded over with fear and anger for she knew he had lied to her on some accounts, and if he were her, forgiveness would not be on the table.
In a moment of defeat, William could no longer hold her gaze. “I was only supposed to stay her until after the dinner. If everything had gone according to plan, I would have had a new living situation lined up for me with another gentleman who was there. But when the others realized that you saw more than you should have… I was told to make sure you don’t ever speak about what you saw. Even if that meant staying here to keep a closer eye-,” William swallowed. “And to persuade you using any means necessary if you didn’t voluntarily decide to keep quiet.”
In that moment, Millicent Ballard’s heart cracked.
She didn’t know why his words infiltrated her soul and sound reasoning so deeply. She knew from the start that Mr. Atwin wasn’t a good man. She wanted to tell herself that over and over again. Yet no matter how many times she repeated it to herself, she still felt hurt because despite it all, she cared for him.
Tears streamed effortless down her rose blushed cheeks as she stood unwavering with her gaze fixed on the floor to the left of him. When William finally looked at her, he became wholly consumed by guilt and grief, and with no words that could make the matter any less hurtful, he took the two steps to close the space between them and wrapped her in his arms.
Millicent let out a short gasp, startled first by his actions. After a brief moment however, she felt the warmth and comfort radiating off him as she pressed her head to his chest and wept. When she finally came to her senses, Ms. Ballard pushed back against his arms to break away. William watched her wipe the tears from her eyes, straighten the front of her gown, and turn to leave.
You betrayed me. She wanted to shout at him.
She wanted to scream and curse him out using words that she never tasted on her lips before.
Instead, she left the guest house, leaving behind her umbrella in the heat of the moment so that she was forced to walk back in the rain. But she didn’t care. With her heart aching and her mind racing, she went straight to the family stables and saddled up a horse to ride into town.
The main street bustled with life from the weekend market and horse sale that traveled from town to town. Slipping down from her mount at the edge of the market square, Ms. Ballard led her horse to the parish constable’s office, and tied it to the hitching post out front.
With her skirts hiked in her hands, Millicent stepped up off the street and in through the open door into the cool atmosphere of the law office.
“What can I do for ye today lass?” asked the middle-aged bald Scotsman sitting behind the counter. Millicent tried swallowing the lump in her throat but it didn’t go away. “Are you well lass?”
“Yes,” Millicent whispered, shaking her head. She recognized Mr. Fraser from around the town, but had never been personally introduced. “I- I was just wondering if perhaps a small purse has been turned in. I may have forgotten it there along with my cloak.”
“May have?” asked the constable.
“Well I didn’t have it when I got home, and the park was the last place that I remember having either so I thought perhaps I left it there, but when I went to check there was nothing. Hence the reason I stand before you now.” Millicent huffed a quiet sigh, mostly to herself, but partially at the man behind the counter.
“No purse has been turned in in the last forty-eight hours. Sorry lass.”
“Thank you,” she whispered before turning to walk back out into the street.
Taking her horse, Millicent started off back down the cobble road leading out of town. She’d nearly passed the last stretch of buildings when she felt the urge to glance over her shoulder. Just a few carriages passing by in the street along with townsfolk going to and from the market square.
She didn’t expect someone to come from in front of her. Her horse reared before she saw him, neighing followed by her shriek as she fell from the worn leather saddle and hit the ground hard. Before she could recover, Millicent felt a strong set of hands grab her arm and yank her up from the ground.
A shrill sound escaped her when she caught a glimpse of the man dragging her off the road into the woods. “Let me go!” she shrieked, digging her heels into the ground as hard as she could until both broke off. A wet cloth quickly covered her mouth. Millicent struggled for a breath, kicking and trying to get out a scream before finally going limp in her captor’s arms.
Ms. Ballard wasn’t awake to see what happened next. She didn’t get to witness the way that Mr. Atwin raced across the hard packed earth through the parted trees to get to her- to get to him. “Stop!” he shouted as he approached. “Stop at once I insist!” The man carrying Millicent limp in his arms looked up to see the man approaching.
“I’m following through on the orders I was given. You must get out of here at once sir. She’s gone to the law and it’s only a matter of time before they are after you and the others for the murder that you’ve committed.”
Mr. Atwin dismounted his horse in one swift motion. “Then let them come. No harm will be done to Ms. Ballard under my watch, understood? I will take full responsibility for that night, the others will be let off free.”
“Your character waivers Mr. Atwin.”
“You have no place to talk. You are no more than a henchman for my father.” With that, Mr. Atwin made the man help him get Millicent onto the horse with him.
When Millicent came around, her head ached, and the scent of chloroform lingered under her nose. She propped herself up on an elbow with her other hand used to rub her weary eyes. She glanced down at her feet propped up on the chaise, her shoes missing from her feet, and her stockings torn from being dragged across the forest floor.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Millicent glanced up at the doorway, immediately recognizing where she was and who she was with.
“You,” she hissed at the man. “What did you do to me? What am I doing here? Why are my stockings torn and my gown dirtie-,” Millicent stopped as she looked back down at her gown. Her hands immediately went to her stomach as a sickening feeling turned ferociously inside.
Upon seeing the tears that threatened to spill, Mr. Atwin rushed to give her the glass of water that he’d been holding. “Oh no Miss Millicent. Do you not remember a different man spooking your horse and attacking you? It was not I. It was fate that placed me on that road at the same time as you, for I was headed to town when I saw him render you unconscious and start off into the woods. When he saw me approaching, he dropped you to the ground and took off. He was smart not to think that he could run carrying your dead weight.” Millicent stared at the man wide-eyed and innocent, confused and sore from falling off her horse.
“How am I to believe you?” she whispered bitterly.
William ran a hand through his hair habitually as he tried to defend himself. “That’s- that’s understandable,” he sighed. “But I am asking you now to please trust that I have never had ill intentions towards you- ever. If I did, I would have let them have their way with you.”
Millicent sat up on the chaise, and swung let her feet drop to the cold wooden floor. “What do you mean, have their way with me?” She peered up at the man from the rim of the water glass, trying to retain even an ounce of composure.
She was taught well to hide her emotions, Mr. Atwin thought. When she wants to.
“I told you before, just in a less forward manner. I was to keep an eye on you, to make sure that you didn’t go to the law. If you did, they were going to harm you. I guess someone saw you go into the constable’s earlier today.”
Millicent’s temper shifted almost instantaneously. Rising from the chaise, she set the glass on the ground and walked straight up to William. “So that was someone you know?” she sneered.
“Yes. I stopped him though. Them. I made it very clear if anyone harmed you that they would have to answer to me.”
Glaring up into his steady gaze, Millicent said to him, “But for all you know, I spoke up about what you did.”
“But I didn’t,” she replied almost immediately. “I couldn’t. And I hate you for it. I hate you because you are going to get away with something, and get to live on with you life while I suffer from the burden of knowing your sin.”
“You don’t have to do that,” William told her.
“Don’t ask me why for I myself do not truly know why yet, but it is not my place to turn you in. For as much as you vex me William, I am still more intrigued by you and the companionship you’ve provided since you’ve arrived.”
Gazing down into the warm heart in her eyes, William’s upper lip curled into a smirk. “Can I ask you something I’ve tried to ask you before Ms. Ballard?”
“What would that be?”
“Would you be daring enough and willing to allow me to paint you?”
“But you are already painting me,” Millicent countered. William shrugged again, allowing his uncombed hair to fall forward over his forehead. He was an attractive man, no doubt. He had his way of attractive a young woman’s attention that had her captivating for the rest of her life. There was little that he was after at this point. All Mr. Atwin knew was that the woman before him was one that captured his attention more that he captured hers. She was a beautiful human specimen, created of the most beautiful traits, and he wanted nothing more than to have his own artwork of her to forever admire her by.
“The clothing I wear now I fear is rather spoiled from today’s unfortunate misadventures. As are my stockings and shoes. What do you expect me to do?”
Moving towards the door, Mr. Atwin picked up a box on a side table and brought it over to Miss Millicent. “Go behind thescreen and put this on if you would so please.” Millicent’s bright hazel-green eyes fell to the cream-colored clothingbox in Mr. Atwin’s hands before reluctantly taking it.
She was brave.
She was daring.
With the box in her arms, she made her way over to the floral painted privacy screen in the corner where she stripped down out of her dress and removed the contents of the box.
Her stomach tightened at the sight of the sheer pink dressing gown that flowed to the floor in rippling ruffles and intricate lace. This was an intimate piece, meant for the most intimate times of day; when a lady was getting dressed or undressed. Millicent wasn’t going to decline the offer though. There was something exhilarating about the idea of being seen but not touched. “Do you swear that no one will ever see this?” She called over to William unsure.
“It will be difficult to keep such a beauty from the rest of the world, but I promise,” he said back to her. “Come now, we only have a few hours left.” Slipping her arms through the weightless sleeves, Millicent dawned the beautiful robe over her blush colored stay and cream shift.
“You realize what you are asking of me is frowned upon by most...” she said from behind the screen.
“How else do you believe the most beautiful paintings are contrived? Painters need subjects, and I’ve asked you to be mine. Will you come out or not?” With a single deep breath, gathered from deep in the pit of her stomach, Millicent Ballard stepped out from behind the French floral screen and revealed herself to William Atwin.