All the lights were out. The house was cloaked in darkness, darkness that pooled in the corners of every room, that hung from the ceiling like black fingers. The only sound was the breathing of the house, a gentle rhythmic creaking. I breathed in deeply, filling my lungs with the stale air of my room, and climbed out of bed.
I already wore my travelling clothes and my small bag was by the foot of my bed. I grabbed the bag, surprised by how light it was. Every earthly thing I own, and it’s nothing. Easing open my bedroom door slowly, I slipped through and out into the dark hallway.
The stairs curved down and around, their depths seeming to travel all the way down to hell. The shadows leered at me and the magnificent paintings of milady’s ancestors glared at me as though they knew what I was about to do. I shook myself. Calm down. This is your only chance. If not tonight, then never.
Throwing back my shoulders and straightening my spine, I tiptoed into milady’s room. It was hot in here, so hot that beads of sweat began to slide down my back, and it stank of mothballs and old age. The lady herself lay in her massive, four-poster bed, her wrinkled skin scowling even in sleep. I ignored her ugliness and went over to the jewellery box that sat on her chest of drawers.
I lay down my bag, and gazed at the box. It was beautiful, made out of very light wood, and carved with patterns of ivy. I tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. In the silvery moonlight I saw a tiny keyhole, dark in the light wood of the box.
I turned back around to face my mistress and saw a chain around her neck. Creeping over to her huge bed, I leaned closer. In the folds of her nightgown, around her thin, wrinkly neck, the most exquisitely small key lay. I reached over until my fingers hovered millimetres from her neck. She’s asleep. It’s okay. Sweat slid down my forehead.
Reaching down, I gently touched the metal of the key, made warm by its closeness to her grey skin. I held it tightly and slowly lifted it off her neck. She didn’t stir. I sighed with relief, then carefully, painstakingly, brought the chain over her head and lifted it free. She continued to scowl in my direction.
Turning my back on her, I slid the key into place and the jewellery box sprung open. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, precious stones, broaches, rings, necklaces, all shimmering and glinting in the moonlight. My eyes widened and I tentatively reached out a hand to touch them. It was more wealth than I’d ever seen in my life. Than I ever would see in my life. My tiny wage as a scullery maid would never earn a hundredth of the cost of the smallest diamond.
But these jewels were not what I was looking for. I dug downwards, deeper into the clinking sparkling wealth, until I found coins. I grabbed a handful, pulled them out, and examined them in the moonlight. They were gold pieces, round and shining, each one worth more than a lifetimes work. It’s ironic that my mistress is, in a way, giving me my future. These are going to buy me a house, a garden, a life I could never have had. Thanks to her stupid, blabbing mouth… I’m free.
I didn’t linger in that sweaty hot room; I made my escape while I could. Slipping the coins into my pocket, I relocked the box. I turned back to her ugliness but panicked about how to put the key around her neck again. Instead of attempting it, I slipped the key around my own neck. I smiled at her. How the tables have turned, milady. Grabbing my travelling bag, I walked triumphantly out of her mothball room, knowing that I’d never have to return.
Down the spiral staircase, through the grand, proud, empty rooms, and out through the servant’s entrance. Making my way through the kitchen gardens to the stables. The smell of hay and manure comforted me as I saddled up Smokey. When I was done, I climbed up on his tall back.
“You ready, Smokey?” He whinnied softly, turning his great head to look at me with his wise eyes. “Then let’s go!” I whispered, and together we set off into the dark night and the great unknown.