In the morning – she felt it was much earlier than usually – Elijah came down to her and led her to Margaret, The Garden’s old housemaid who had to give Annabel a few tasks to do. Elijah was silent, the bruise Annabel saw yesterday now was big and ugly green-and-purple spot on his cheekbone. Watcher’s black eyes were shining with hate, and Annabel guessed it wouldn’t just pass like some kind of childish sulk. Elijah disappeared from her view as soon as they found Margaret.
Nobody talked about the last night accident, at least not with Annabel. She could see children around her whispering something to each other, throwing glances at her, then noticing angry Elijah and scurrying away before he had time to take out the whip. They wanted to know what happened, but were afraid of the watchers, too, who in their turn were very annoyed. It seemed like Elijah made it clear for Mr. Morr that sometimes watchers get out of control. Nobody liked it, of course, but Mr. Morr had to be stricter to everyone than they were used to. Children and other slaves tried to avoid watchers’ anger at all costs. But for small kids who had only caught a sight of the bullet hole in the wall it was essential to ask Annabel a few questions.
“Hey.” Little red-haired boy leaned in to her when nobody was watching them. He worked with Annabel in the laundry. “Hey,” Annabel looked up at him, “what happened back there, in the living room? I’ve heard Elijah shot at you. Is it true?” Annabel nodded once. Boy’s mouth opened in a big ‘O’. “Wow…” he whispered slowly. “But why? I only saw you running from him. Did you do something really bad?”
“I don’t know,” the girl answered with a short sigh. “He just wanted me to be a frightened sheep, to obey his orders… But I wasn’t in the mood for it.” She tried to smile, to be less stressed, but she couldn’t. One thought about the bullet that almost struck her head, about that slight whistle above her ear… one thought was enough to make her heartsore again.
She had her breakfast, then went to do work that Gregfield had for her. Horses were led out from the stables, the territory had to be cleaned up. Annabel sweated and was out of breath in an hour – summer was merciless, just like Gregfield himself who had definitely been ordered to spoil Annabel’s life. While pulling a wagon with manure, Annabel threw a glance at the front yard where people were fussing around as if preparing for something. Mr. Morr waited on the mansion porch with cigar in his mouth, but hadn’t lit it. Two watchers with big dogs proceeded to the gate; Darren said something to Mr. Morr and waved his hand to where they were pulling golden bars open.
Only then Annabel heard the noise. Soft rattling of the wheels, sweet clopping of horse hooves, shuffling of dirt on the grassless road. Somebody was approaching The Garden. People in the yard went alerted and gathered together to see who their new guest was. Mr. Morr seemed surprised, too, probably because nobody had messaged him about the arrival. That was something new.
“Move, you silly kid, there’s nothing to stare at!” Gregfield pushed Annabel in the back and made sure she kept working. A huge heap of manure had been collected behind the stables, and there Annabel went to empty her wagon. When she returned, a small mahogany landau with two brown horses was parking in the yard. Inside the carriage sat an old man, smartly dressed, with classy white beard and haircut. He was quite active as for an ‘old man’. He had his back straight, his legs were slim and restless, and though he had a silver-top walking cane, he only squeezed it under his long arm and walked in a free, even in a pompous manner. Something in his face was very familiar to Annabel, she couldn’t make out what exactly. This something made the man seem young. Mr. Morr greeted the guest with a wide grin, like he’d always used to do, and they talked for a while. From where she stood, Annabel couldn’t hear them, but in a few minutes Mr. Morr’s self-confident face changed. It became all soft and aflutter – Annabel had never seen Alferdo Morr being anything like this. She guessed the old man was a big fruit and needed a flattering treatment. Mr. Morr called out for Elijah and Rit, another watcher. They were ordered to do something and immediately got to work. Elijah approached Annabel and pulled her toward the yard where a few young girls had already been settled in a short row. Annabel tried to fight him at first, but Elijah’s stillness was unbreakable. He didn’t even look at her when he pushed her between two other girls and grunted, “Stay. Here.”
Annabel wanted to mock him behind his back, but Mr. Morr and the guest were watching. Well, if that was ‘the moment of truth’ again, everyone had known that no client in their right minds would ever choose Annabel for doing any service. Even Mr. Morr knew it.
“So, Mr. Heels,” said the slave driver with a self-satisfied smile, “you said your master wants the most beautiful housemaids for his mansion…” His fat arm made a wide gesture. “Here you go. These are my best flowers.”
The old man named Mr. Heels eyed the row pretentiously. Annabel wished she could catch a moment and steal away from the yard, but when she tried to make a step back, somebody’s body blocked her way. Annabel held her breath, but didn’t flinch. Somebody bend to her ear and whispered, “Don’t even try, little witch.” She didn’t have to turn her head to recognize Darren and his quiet husky voice. Oh, of course, Elijah wouldn’t come close to me. Hi, Darren. How’s your nothing? How many innocent men have you beaten half to death today? Annabel stepped on her place again and said nothing.
Mr. Heels clasped his hands behind his back and started walking along the row. His piercing green eyes were very, very familiar, whereas the way he moved, the way he behaved made him a scary, ugly stranger. The one like all those Morr’s clients, callous and egocentric. But the way he looked at her…
Annabel didn’t realize she’d narrowed her eyes while watching Mr. Heels. He swinged his cane when he made another step, didn’t stop to look at any girl for too long. When Annabel’s eyes met his, she was sure he recognized her, but ignored. Then he doubled back to Mr. Morr, eyed the girls again, and lifted his cane, pointing… directly at Annabel.
Now she recalled. The boy from the street, the one that helped her hide from two chasers. The one with brown curly hair and sly green eyes, he smiled at her and talked about leaving The Garden, though she’d never met him before. Annabel could swear it was him beneath the white beard and wig, disguised like an important man. Disguised, but why?
“This one,” said Mr. Heels still looking at Annabel. Mr. Morr seemed taken aback. He coughed and shifted on his fat legs.
“I am glad you made such a quick choice, sir, but… Uh… Are you sure you want this girl?”
Mr. Heels looked at Mr. Morr in earnest surprise.
“Wouldn’t you recommend her?”
“Well… “ Mr. Morr shot Annabel an uncertain look. “She is very hardworking and.. and clever, definitely. But I’d say she might cause a lot of trouble.”
“Lord Finniwall cares a lot about the servanthood of his house,” said Mr. Heels. Annabel noticed that the boy had changed his voice, too, made it sound hoarse and creaky – the voice of an old man. “His servants are the people who represent his social status to his consistent guests, and social status is the treasure lord Finniwall values the most. His servants have to look appropriately, they have to match his house and his reputation. This girl is exactly what lord Finniwall needs. Personality can be easily fixed and formed, while appearance can’t. So don’t worry about the troubles, Mr. Morr, it’s not your concern anymore.” Annabel couldn’t tell if it was just her, or Mr. Hells really did throw her a knowing glance. Suddenly he turned to Mr. Morr again and said in quite a circuitous way (which was too obvious), “Unless you want to delay the deal far even more and offer my master to come here personally to persuade you-“
“No, no, of course not!” Mr. Morr hurried to stop the coming disaster. “Excuse me, sir, we won’t delay… Darren! Make Annabel wash her face and dress up. Do you want her to go with us, or wait for you here, Mr. Heels?”
“She’ll wait here while we sign the papers. I hope it won’t take long?”
“No, no, it won’t. Please, proceed.”
As they both departed, Annabel felt Darren’s heavy arm on her shoulder.
“Congratulations, Annie. You’ll have a rich and important master to bring slippers to. Don’t forget to send your dear Elijah small letters every week. Poor boy, he’ll miss you so much…”
“Get lost,” she spat without looking at the watcher. An instance later Darren pushed her toward a barrel full of water and forced to wash the dirt off her face and hands. Clean clothes had been waiting for her on her bed, and in a few minutes Annabel, guarded by Darren and another watcher named Flok, stood by the landau, waiting for strange Mr. Heels to recieve the final greetings from Mr. Morr. Heels himself didn’t seem way too pleased with all good words adressed to him and lord Finniwall and hurried to jump into the carriage. Darren nodded for Annabel to do the same.
“Tell lord Finniwall my greatest respect!” Mr. Morr shouted after them. “I hope he’ll remember good old Morr’s services!”
“He will!” Mr. Heels’s lips crooked in a quick smile. “Go, Martin.”
The coachman sent the horses forward in an easy trot. Even though it was too painful for Annabel to look back at the yard where stood the children she didn’t say goodbye to, her head did turn. Among all those people she’d known for years and had been used to (and even loved), she saw a lone dark figure standing far from everyone. His hands were hidden in his pockets, his black hair messy, black eyes filled with hate. Annabel turned away and didn’t see him leaving. She knew that Elijah left the yard with cold, vile satisfaction in his heart, and she didn’t want to look at his face in that moment.