VII. Hymn Before Sunrise

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I remained beneath my bed covers the entire night. After the incident with the hand beneath the sheet, I hid in my bed and waited for the early morning wake-up call from the singing birds. They woke me the day before, but that time, the melody was peaceful and harmonious. That morning, it sounded like they were almost at war with each other, as if something had come and affected the mood of the birds.

Apprehensively, I slid my fingers from under the sheet and pulled it down. My hair, which was longer than many would expect as I always have it pinned up, was now dishevelled and spilled all over my pillow. Lifting my head, the light that shone into the window allowed me to see that someone was sitting at the bottom of my bed.

'What was all the raucous about last night?' Antonia asked. Her presence alarmed me; I had not heard her enter my room. What a sneaky old woman.

'Why are you in my bed chambers?' I asked, resting my back on the bed post. I brought my knees up to my chest and kept the covers around me.

Antonia could hear the alarm in my voice. She tried her best to assure me that she had my best interests at heart, but I remained uneasy.

She said, 'How could I not hear the screams and banging from this room last night? Would I not be more frightful if I never showed a concern to your wellbeing? It sounded as though you were being, well, murdered!'

'I'm quite alright now, thank you very much.'

'You don't look it, not one bit!'

I fiddled with my hair and straightened up from the bed. 'Your concern is much appreciated but not necessary.'

She stayed in her spot by the door, at the end of my bed, while I rummaged around for suitable attire. I never allowed anyone to see me in my bed clothes.

'You cannot fool an old fool, Mrs. Holloway. I know something happened last night. What did you see?'

I lost my temper a little, but I conclude this to be the result of sleep deprivation. 'What is it to you? Why is it that you care?'

'The ghosts that are appearing to you-'

I cut her short. 'I'm still not even sure what I've seen has been that of... paranormal circumstance.'

'You choose to ignore what is right in front of your face, Rowena Holloway? Ignorance is deadly. I fear for your safety should you allow your stubborn mind to disregard the beatings of your honest heart. I can tell.'

'You can tell what?'

'That you're scared. Oh, you poor girl, you are so very scared. You always have been, ever since you lost your family.'

I stopped looking through the wardrobe for my garments. She knew. Somehow, she knew my innermost secret, and I was certain I had not told her. 'How do you come by this knowledge?' At first, her lips remained silenced. 'Answer me. What messenger bore my story to you?'

'A woman, clad in funeral black, whom we must never see with our eyes – only our minds.'

'The same nonsense the little boy in the graveyard invoked. Tell me, if you had not seen this woman, how could you possibly know of her?'

'Because she's singing, right now, in my head. She's singing a lovely hymn. She warns me. She tells me that you must lift the veil from your eyes, or you will surely perish.'

'Get out!' I shouted. My tolerance for her drivel had reached its climax – I could not bear much more.

Antonia did as I asked without the need of being told a second time. Once I calmed from the conversation, I removed my bed clothes and fastened up my grey dress. A cup of tea was sure to soothe my troubled mind. I hastened downstairs and to the kitchen where the owner of Dove Cottage sat.

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