The fragile, fresh foliage had just begun to peek out of the nurturing mud's embrace. The chestnut trees were tall and welcoming and the local children would play hide ‘n’ seek for hours each day as the sun shone happily on, making the spring meadow shine as bright as the evening star on a clear night. That day was like any other. The ponies in the stable were chomping away at the fresh hay from the fields whilst the blue birds chirped merrily on the branches. The air was as soft as velvet and the breeze was cooling. It was, in more ways than one, the perfect spring day. This was the scene the drivers of Pony and Trap Co. loved to see everyday. Little did they know that that night Death would roll in with a heavy fog.
It was 5:30 on the dreary Wednesday morning when the blood-curdling cries came from the upstairs bedroom. Painful but brief, the labour was attended by only the polite but passive midwife. The bright eyed infant, after receiving a generous slap for good measure, was passed over to its mother, who gazed upon her son with a new found devotion and knew from that moment that she had found what she had been looking for. Love!
For a while, Jennet and her baby existed only to each other. But eventually everything was sucked into reality’s tornado. Jennet’s mind was filled with thoughts of happiness and hatred. Jennet's love for her bundle was all consuming but she knew it wouldn't last. She knew it couldn't. As the hours wore on, Jennet fed and nurtured the little boy until he fell into a silent slumber. On feeble legs, she crept downstairs to get some fruit for herself, as she had not eaten all day, but even before her foot had touched the final step, her father grasped her and Mr Humfrye dragged her into the room where her mother was sitting, waiting. Mrs Humfrye was perched neatly, one leg over the other, in her flowered red and blue dress with decadent frills at the bottom.
“You're going to give that ‘thing’ up for adoption. He is a bastard, an abomination, a disgrace to the Humfrye family. And if you don’t get rid of it then I will, personally.”
Jennet turned and fled the living room in tears, dashing to her bedroom and bolting the door where she wept loudly for hours on end. When she had finally composed herself, she gently swept the baby up into her arms, waking him from his slumber, and slowly cradled him back and forth.
“I can't bare to give you up. You're mine and we may as well try to escape together...” thought Jennet as she cooed at little Nathaniel.
So she packed a large bag containing all her loved possessions and a few sets of clothes.
She clambered into the pony and trap and told the driver, ”Take me somewhere far away from here, somewhere I will never be found.” The driver looked at her with his blackish-grey beard dangling from his face and his mud brown eyes squinted yet his bushy eyebrows were raised. Although Jennet was spooked by this, she knew this look all too well. It was the look of confusion and worry. Jennet had know the driver since she was two years old and they had a special bond that only they could understand. As the trap bumped on the broken path and the hoofs stomped, Jennet kept thinking of her family. She did not want to leave them but if she didn't she would never see her son again. The driver, not knowing or understanding the situation, thought he was doing a kind gesture when he took the path to Alice Drablow's house.
As the night sky fell and the infant lay peacefully on Jennet’s chest, his head light against her pale skin, the pony and trap had finally reached a miserable and meager town. As the stars gleamed on the dark canvas and the full moon lit up the earth, the driver slowed the pony as they reached the causeway path. Never, in all his years of service, had the path looked so lifeless. A chill ran down the back of his spine as he continued to move across the path. The wind suddenly increased, causing Jennet to wake with a sputter and cough. When she realised where the driver had taken them, she cried to the merciful heavens for Jennet Humfrye had entered the town of Crythin Gifford.
The pony and trap had reached a eerie black house that seemed to be fading away due to age; the grass was extremely overgrown and had clearly not been cared for. The owls sat perched on the lifeless trees of the morbid moors whilst the crows flew over and circled the island. Wherever crows flew, death roamed that land, this much Jennet knew. She was frightened by what would appear when she knocked on the ancient oak door. What spectral horror lay behind? She summoned all the courage she had in her entire body and knocked using the rusty old lion’s head that seemed to growl menacingly. The door swung open with a creak and a pale woman wearing a sombre black dress appeared at the door.
“Oh, it’s you. Yes, I was expecting you after reading that letter from mother. It was rushed but I could read the key words. Where is the child then?” She glanced with concern at the oak trap that stood on the path. Shuffling on her feet, Jennet refused to reveal the whereabouts of the child. Alice asked her sister briskly, "Do you take me for a fool?"
Jennet was to say, “Yes. Everyone does!” and it was the truth because even though Alice was older, Jennet was always seen as the mature one. Jennet held her rage in for as long as she could but she knew it wasn’t working. She stared at the trap again and in doing so, came back to reality. Alice peered at the trap as well, then stormed out of the house, marched over to the pony and trap where she found a small specimen wrapped in a bundle of rust coloured blankets with an elegant flower illustration as a symbol of joy, who she picked up gracefully, and escorted into the house.
“You can’t do this sister. He is my child and I intend to raise him” said Jennet as a tear trickled down her pale face which turned soon after into steam as her head turned bright red with fury. Despite the fact that Alice did care for her sister’s well being, she took the sleepy child inside and placed him in a old Victorian flowered cot where he remained asleep. Jennet tried to enter the house but her bones suddenly grew stiff yet she carried on but it was no use. Frozen with shock! The driver jumped from wooden trap and hauled her body into the seat where she remained unconscious.But she had no idea of the fear that was to come!
Jennet awoke to find herself in a neat and tidy room that a family of four could sleep in. A printed note sat on the chestnut nightstand beside where she lay. The note read:
Arma autem Coronatorum
The finest suite in the whole hotel - £10.00 per night
Everything was a blur as to what had happened last night. She had just awoken from her worst nightmare. A nightmare she had tried to bury six years ago. She could remember the door slamming as the infant was taking from her and the pony’s hooves trotting on the god forsaken path. She swung her slightly wrinkled and shrunken feet round onto the wooden floorboards and stood, hunched over with an ache in her back. Jennet walked with a limp over to a golden framed mirror that hung in the left corner of the room. She realised that her youth was coming to an end. Her hair was starting to go sickly white at the roots and her skin was starting to wrinkle. A buzzing sound from the chestnut bedside table rattled her mind so she picked up the phone only to the sound of a man whom she hadn’t encountered before. He stated his name as James Carlhurton and disguised his voice by using a poor Irish accent. Jennet wanted to hang up but then the man mentioned a son.
When Jennet tried to ask the man on the phone what he meant, there was no answer. Jennet lifted the airy pillow that laid on beautiful white bed. Under the pillow lay another note that read:
A dress from fabulosa vultus.
Cafe on Coffea St. at 1200. Nathaniel
Jennet decided, instead of going to the police, she would go to this arranged meeting and see what this man could tell her. Her son had been taken from her and now, after six years years, there was hope. Hope of finding him. But whoever this James Carlhurton was, he was not going to dominate her. She left the hotel at 11:00am and took a leisurely stroll to the dress shop. Jennet requested to see the dress. It was black with sequences and heels to match but it was not for Jennet. She sauntered to the shop, still wearing her light blue trousers and plain white top with a simple black cardigan on top. When she arrived at the cafe, the waiter directed her to a table where a man in a beige trenchcoat was sitting. From the part of his head that was showing, from behind the newspaper, she could see that he was furious. Jennet had disobeyed him. Jennet sat gracefully on the wooden seat that stood opposite James’. There was a moment of silence and then Jennet asked him, “So, what do you know about my boy?” He placed a file named Nathaniel Humfrye and a few images that had been taken recently. Anything that involved Nathaniel made Jennet’s heart move.
“I wish to see him!” a serious look placed on Jennet’s face. James Carlhurton stood up from the table, took a look at Jennet Humfrye and strolled over to a carbon black Rolls Royce Phantom that was parked on the side of the road. As James opened the door for Jennet, she took her seat in the front of the car. The car engine started and swiftly, the car drove down the gravel road and Jennet was about to meet her son. Or so she thought.