The big bay window was Victoria’s only eye on the world. For as long as she could remember, she had been considered delicate and very rarely permitted to leave her rooms. She was a small, pale, lonely girl, whose sharp little features looked as if they may have been made of old ivory. Her life was both tedious and burdensome, but she was wise enough to know that any attempt on her part to change her lot would very possibly result in the rules constraining her becoming more rather than less stringent. So she sat on her sofa and watched the world through her window.
Her lot would have been worse if those who had charge of her were able to look behind her broad smooth brow into her busy and imaginative brain. Nobody knew about her dream life, and the friends who peopled those dreams. Nobody knew how she laughed, and sang, and danced, and ran, as she lay in her high, narrow bed with its overly decorated curtains and flaring patchwork quilt. These nocturnal adventures were, she thought, the only thing that enabled her to face the boredom and loneliness of her days with tolerable equanimity.
And so matters stood until one winter’s day when the snow was falling so hard that her most officious nurse closed the thick red velvet curtains across the window and threw extra logs on the fire. Victoria stared unseeingly at the blue and orange flames, mentally counting the hours until something might happen to decrease the tedium.
A sudden bustle took her very much by surprise, she was all but asleep when two nurses hurried into her sitting room. They pulled her upright, plumped her pillows, smoothed her hair, and generally tidied with ruthless efficiency. She knew better than to grumble or question, even when their rough handling hurt her bones, or when they pulled her hair. She merely set her teeth and endured. The one bright spot was that they opened the curtains behind her sofa and she was able to see the enchanted landscape the snow had created in the square outside her window.
The door opened to admit her lady mother, and a gentleman. Victoria clasped her hands together in her lap and lifted a mildly enquiring face.
“There she is,” Mama said in a tight voice. “There’s the creature who owns this house, and everything in it.”
The gentleman trod his stately way across the carpet and stood staring down at at Victoria with his hands clasped behind his back. He swayed gently forwards and backwards, a movement that made Victoria feel vaguely queasy, while he looked down into her eyes.
“She seems a sickly little thing,” he remarked.
“She is indeed, but that won’t suit my purposes. Her money goes to charity if she dies unwed.”
The gentleman made a strange humming noise in his chest then nodded.
“Very well. The boy is very little use, but controllable. You have a bargain.”
Mama smiled a taut little smile that exposed her rather bad teeth.
“Victoria,” she said firmly, “this is Mister Arkwright. You will be marrying his son, Makepeace, as soon as it can be arranged.”
Victoria’s visitors swept from the room, leaving her to wonder what manner of a man they would marry her to in order to gain control of her inheritance. She wasn’t left in ignorance for long. Her nurses, as was their habit, talked as if she was deaf or stupid. While they waited for Mama to be far enough away for them to slope off safely, the bitterest of them nudged the fat one with a sharp elbow.
“Well, I never thought I would feel sorry for her ladyship. But that Makepeace is a vicious little bastard. I give her three months.”
Then they took themselves off about whatever ploy was more interesting than taking care of Victoria.
“Oh my goodness,” she thought, then, with the full knowledge that there was nothing she could do about her impending marriage she put the fear to the back of her mind, and turned her attention to the snowy scene in the gardens outside. There were children playing in the thick snow. One of them saw her in her window and cheekily threw a snowball. Victoria found herself laughing delightedly. Greatly daring, she waved a hand, and the child waved back, grinning infectiously. It seemed that time rushed by as she watched the children play, and before she knew it dusk was falling and the garden began to empty of children. In the end there was just one figure left in the snow. As the lamplighters went about their business, he looked up to the bright window and Victoria saw his face. She blinked as her eyes took in his square face and his bright blue eyes. She knew that face. It was the one she saw every night in her dreams. It was the face of the boy with whom she danced and ran and laughed. He smiled up at her and gestured for her to come outside.
“How can I go outside?” she thought bitterly. “I am stuck in this room and on this settee. I don’t even have any shoes.”
As if he read her thoughts, the boy held up a hand in which there was a pair of fur-lined boots.
Victoria stood up, shakily because she was unaccustomed to walking, and made her way to the window. She put her hands on the sash and tried to raise it but nothing happened. Then she remembered the latch and reached high above her head to slide it open. Once this was done she could lift the window inch by inch, it was hard work and the frigid air that rushed into the room all but stole her breath. She bit her lower lip and persevered until she had enough of a gap for her to squeeze through. The second she was out on the windowsill, the glass crashed closed behind her.
She jumped, startled by the noise, before looking eagerly down into the garden. There was nobody there. For a moment she knew fear and despondency, but then she told herself not to be silly, whether there was anybody waiting for her or not it was better to be out here than inside that overheated room where everyone either hated her or despised her. It was so cold now that her teeth chattered and her hands were rapidly becoming blue and losing their grip. Just as she was wondering how on earth she could get down from the window ledge, she felt warm breath on her neck and heard delighted laughter in her head.
“Jump, my brave one,” the voice was as familiar as breathing, and Victoria launched herself into the air.
The big front door flew open and Victoria’s nurses flew out onto the frozen pavement. Their charge’s broken body lay in a heap on the already dirty snow.
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