ANNA IN THE PORTRAIT
by Linda McMann
Hillside Manor 1909
“He’s here, he’s here! He’s come for Anna,” said Bessie running into the room wringing her hands. Her eyes darted around the mahogany paneled room looking for a place to hide behind the massive walls of books.
“Go. Now. Leave us,” Isabella said to the housekeeper as she hurried across the rich burgundy Persian rug and shooed her away. She locked the double doors to the library, leaned against them and heard Bessie's heavy footsteps tromping down the hallway towards the back of the manor.
Isabella’s heart pounded in her chest as she gathered her swirling thoughts together and concentrated on the instructions for the spell she was about to cast. It had to work, it just had to.
She moved to the fireplace and hugged her distraught young daughter. Above the mantel hung a portrait of Anna, commissioned and completed upon her graduation from Miss Porter’s Finishing School this past spring. Long dark curly hair framed her petite face and violet eyes, matching the iridescent purple cape around her shoulders, gleamed with unshed tears . Isabella fastened the ancestral sapphire pendant around Anna’s neck and placed her rose gold wedding band in her palm.
“Mother are, are, you, you sure?” said Anna. Tears gave way and slid down her cheeks as she struggled for control, gripping the ring.
The desperation in Isabella’s eyes spoke louder than her words. “It’s the only way I know to insure your safety, my love. We don’t have much time.”
She closed her eyes and cleared her mind for a moment, then clasped her daughter’s hands as she spoke:
In this painting you shall dwell
Till one true love breaks the spell
Carefully watch and wait
For release to your one soul mate.”
The instant her daughter vanished, a flash of blinding light filled the room. Isabella shielded her eyes with trembling hands. Her knees gave way and she sank to the floor. She touched her head gingerly and rubbed at the ache there with one hand. She moved her hand over her heart.
Did she do the right thing? Did she say the right spell? She looked up at the portrait. It changed ever so slightly to show her twenty-year-old daughter now wearing the sapphire pendant and holding her gold wedding band. A hint of lilac, her favorite fragrance, remained in the air.
Relief and sorrow washed over Isabella as she stood, pressing her palms down the front of her skirt, absently smoothing the fabric. It worked. Her daughter and the pendant were safe. She stumbled as she took the first step, and grabbed the back of a chair, steadying herself. Squaring her shoulders, she moved forward opening the doors to the library and walked to the front door of the manor to answer the insistent knocking.
She stood tall as she met Alfred’s gaze. She must maintain control.
“I’ve come for Anna. We are to be married as our families agreed. I will be moving the date forward, since you are without protection now that your husband is gone.”
She looked into his cold eyes and saw the lack of compassion there, even as his words belied it. “My husband called on you yesterday to cancel the betrothal and I know you’re responsible for his death. You will not take our daughter.”
“I have the agreement in writing and you have no choice in the matter, Mrs. Harris.” He advanced forward, raising his fist and shaking it at her. “Do not underestimate me. I will have Anna as my wife.”
Isabella stepped backwards involuntarily. She met his glaring eyes and strengthened her resolve. Her voice rose, “Anna has been sent away to safety. She will not be marrying you now or ever. Good day to you, Mr. White.”
She slammed the door and bolted it, leaning back against its solid support. She could hear him shouting threats, and slowly sank to the floor as every bone in her body lost its rigidity. A desolate moan escaped her lips. She hugged herself with arms that would never hold the two people most dear to her again, and rocked back and forth.
“God be with you darling girl, as I cannot.”