The sun had already begun to sink below the horizon and Catherine Watchfob was still out on her carriage ride through the manor grounds. She was supposed to be back for supper, but during her trip she came upon a lake and was so taken with its tranquil beauty, that she was moved to halt the carriage and sit by the water’s edge to reflect on the marvels of nature.
The horses drawing the carriage cantered forward at a brisk pace. Catherine sat back against the seat, bumping up and down with the shocks of the carriage as the wheels struggled over the cobblestones. Biting her lip, Catherine urged the horses faster hoping that a speedy enough return home might spare her the ire of her father.
As the carriage rounded a glen, Catherine was made aware that something was amiss. A thick column of black smoke was rising from a spot in the distance. Catherine pushed the horses even faster to a full gallop. She raced across the grounds, wind rushing through the carriage squinting both against the air and to keep tears at bay.
The sight of her home in flames took her breath away. She barely had the presence of mind to stop the horses. Her tears flowed freely. The entire building was consumed by the fire. The smoke stung her eyes and burned her throat. Catherine had just hopped out of the carriage when her father, Lord Watchfob, ran streaming out of the flaming house. His cravat was stained black by the soot swirling through the air, his shirt and coat were dishevelled and unalligned so that he looked like a commoner given the clothes of a lord.
“Darling, Catherine, Darling” Lord Watchfob’s eyes were wide with fear. It occured to Catherine at that moment that she rarely saw her father in any emotion other than detached disdain. She was removed from this thought by her father’s frantic screaming. “Stay outside, wait for Jane to come out and take you to my brother’s house.”
This idea was a shocking one to Catherine, for she had never heard mention of this brother before.
Lord Watchfob turned to run back into the house, apologetically shouting over his shoulder, “I’ve got to go get your brother”.
Catherine stood outside paralyzed, staring into the flames. In some ways the flames reflected the tranquil beauty of the lake which had kept her away from the house. In a similar way they transfixed Catherine and kept her rooted to the spot gazing endlessly.
In a hurry, Jane rushed out of the house and shook Catherine out of her reverie. “Let’s go, dear.” Jane hopped into the carriage that Catherine had just disembarked and beckoned. As Catherine climbed into the seat, she heard a loud cracking of wood behind her as the fire ate up enough of the walls to force the roof of the house to collapse.
Jane took the reins and set the horses off to the gate separating the Watchfob manor from the world outside. As the gate loomed in site on the horizon, another carriage at full gallop cut Catherine’s off. At first she surmised it was a fleeing servant newly liberated by the demise of his master, but after yet another glance she saw that it was not one of the Watchfob’s carriages. The Watchfobs had phaetons and even broughams but the carriage currently steaming along in front of Catherine was foreign to her.
With a gasp, Catherine realized that the carriage belonged to an intruder. She reached over and snatched the reins out of Jane’s hands. Jane almost cried out in surprise, but after seeing the smoldering anger in her charge’s expression, she sat back and let Catherine drive.
Catherine’s horses broke into a gallop at her call. Slowly the distance between her and her competitors disappeared. She couldn’t see the intruder from behind, because this strange carriage had a hood on the back shooting up over the seat and providing shade. Catherine pulled her carriage up to the right side of the stranger and stared over. She caught a glimpse but lost it as a massive impact rocked the carriage.
“Catherine, dear,” Jane warbled, “He hit us.”
“I know.” Catherine flicked the reins and the horses moved even faster. The chase was fierce. Catherine’s carriage rocked as it bounced over stones. The intruder raced across the courtyard and squeezed his tiny carriage through a gap made in the gate around the manor grounds. Catherine was barely able to turn quickly enough to stop from slamming into the wall.
She breathed hard, seething with rage and frustration. Slowly, she turned the carriage around and walked the horses back to the manor to mourn the loss of her family.