by Valerie Christie
It was dark when Annie awoke. For a moment, she wondered where she was, then remembered that she was in their new house, the one in the country. She lay for a moment, aware of the stillness all around her, then something seemed to urge her to get up. She rose from her bed, and walked over to the window, the floorboards cold under her bare feet.
She opened the curtain,and all outside was dark and still, the landscape illuminated by the light of the moon. Nevertheless, something from outside the house seemed to be calling to her, and she had no choice but to go.
Hoping that none of the household would hear her, Annie made her way carefully down the stairs, opened the front door, and went out into the darkness. She felt the sensation of cool air on her body, and for a moment wished she had put on a coat over her thin nightgown, but it was too late to return to the house now. She walked into the wood that ran close by their house, and heard the sound of the stream that ran close by. She paused for a moment, almost mesmerised by the soft sound of the trickling water, then went on her way, drawn by something she couldn't explain.
After walking for around ten minutes, Annie had reached the centre of the small wood. Looking around, she noticed that one of the trees there was a strange shape; in place of branches there seemed to be some sort of carving. In the dim light, she was unable at first to make out the shape, but on looking more closely she could faintly see the figure of a man. Unable to see more in the darkness, Annie decided that she would return in daylight for a closer look.
At breakfast the next morning, Annie said nothing about her night-time adventure. None of her family, nor any of these servants seemed to know that she had left the house in the middle of the night, which she was glad of. She did not want to have to explain her reasons, which to her seemed fanciful. She could not have told anyone why she had felt that she must leave the house.
“Would you like some more bread and butter, Miss Annie?” asked Jane.
“No, thank you.” Annie smiled at the servant, then turned to find her mother looking at her in a puzzled way.
“You’ve eaten very little this morning, are you feeling well?”
It was true that Annie had eaten less than usual; she had managed some bread and butter, but had barely touched her plate of bacon and eggs.
“I’m fine, mama,” she said. “I'm not very hungry this morning, but I don't feel ill. I should like to go for a walk after prayers, if I may have permission. I promise I will not go too far from the house.”
Her mother nodded. “You may go, once breakfast is over and we have said our morning prayers.”
A few hours later, Annie left the house once again and made her way to the wood. She found the path quite easily, and made her way to the spot where she had seen the carving the night before. Except….there was nothing there. No carving, no figure. She walked over to one of the trees. Its top had been cut off, and as she ran her hand over the smooth grain of the wood, she wondered if she had imagined seeing the figure of a man on top of this.
While she stood, lost in thought, a shadow fell over the sunlit wood. Annie turned and saw a beautiful angel standing in front of her. She had always imagined them as stone-coloured, like the statues in church, but this one was a beautiful golden colour. She looked up at its face, and saw a serene, welcoming expression. Then the angel spoke.
“You found me,” it said. Its voice was unusual, almost musical, neither male nor female. Annie didn't feel frightened, but instead had a sense of peace.
“I came here last night,” explained Annie “but I couldn't see the carving very well, so I wanted to come back in daytime to have a closer look. I thought it...you...was only a carving, and not real. I'm sorry for disturbing you. I'll leave.”
“No, please stay, it's fine. We can talk. I haven't spoken to anyone for a very long time. Hundreds of years, in fact.”
“Are you lonely?” Annie asked.
“No, I'm not lonely,” it said. “I love the peace of the wood, the sound of the birdsong, and the rippling of the stream. I would rather be out here in the beauty of nature than in a building.”
“Why are you here?” asked Annie.
The angel paused for a moment before replying. “ I am a watcher, “ it said. “I watch over the house where you live, and all those within its walls. I stay in the wood all the time, which I don’t mind, and when I’m tired I rest on top of that tree.” It pointed to where Annie had seen it the night before.
“Why do you watch?” asked Annie.
The angel sighed. “I don't know why,” it said “but I was told to watch, and so I must.”
“I am glad,” said Annie.
She said goodbye to the angel and returned to the house. Annie never saw it again, but for as long as she lived there she was reassured of the angel’s presence in the wood, and that it was watching over them all.
Valerie Christie lives in Belfast. She is a history geek with a special interest in the Tudor and Stuart eras.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'The Gargoyle in the Foyer'