Despite her miraculous ability to quiet children, cure colic, and make the complexion glow or fade, the household was happy to see Edelmira leave, turning an otherwise tragic occasion fortuitous.
The cook, gossiping over tea, would say in a heavy Cockney accent, “I seen ‘er walk by a flaahr an’ make i’ wilt. She sucked da life right aaht ov it. Like a ‘arpie she is.”
The servants were not the only ones threatened by this otherworldliness. The lady of the house, clever and shrewd as she was, could not find a way to convince her husband to dispel what she thought of as an aberration. To make matters worse she knew, as did most of society, that the child he brought back from Portugal more than ten years ago was not only the new nanny, but in fact his illegitimate daughter.
Driven by jealousy the duchess would say in affected Queen’s English, “You should never have brought her here, Arthur. She does not belong. She is more like a ghost than a nanny - floating barefoot through the halls in a white dress, appearing when least expected! Why not give her to the Dawsons in Danbury? She would fit in better there, surrounded by the moors, hidden in the mist and fog.” Having endured the Napoleonic wars, the duke was unyielding in his decision to keep his daughter close. The moment he died, however, the duchess seized her chance for revenge. And so, one gloomy morning, three months from Edelmira’s twenty-eighth birthday, she was abandoned once more, put out like a deformed infant, left at the doorsteps of a palatial, far-off country manor.
With no one there to greet her, Edelmira sat on her pine traveling chest and fixed her gaze on the manor’s unwelcoming front doors. She wondered what fate awaited her on the other side of the threshold. A dragonfly hovering closely seemed to answer:
You are soon to take care of a lonely little girl who lost her mother at childbirth. Beware your mistress, a stepmother filled with spite. The lord of the manor, an unfortunate soul, is about to die from alcohol consumption.
Edelmira accepted her future with unnatural ease. For what was incomprehensible to most, was to her quite normal. Since childhood, her gift brought the bits of thought behind matter to the forefront. Reality, to her, was an illusion. An angel once told her in a dream, “The earth is a mosaic, and most fail to notice the gossamer tesserae floating down from the realm of mind that form its images of beauty and horror.”
Of scenes of horror, Edelmira had plenty. But one in particular would dislodge itself from memory at her most vulnerable moments. It started as an inchoate feeling at the top of her head, slowly turned into panic and then picked up speed until it gushed downwards, unstoppable, like muddy waters rushing from an open floodgate. The only control she had was to bargain with it – take over my mind, but never my heart. So painful were the emotions attached with the memories that only peripheral flashes could be endured. They had the Medusa’s power – facing them would turn her to stone.
Sensing its approach, Edelmira hugged her knees for support. Through tightly shut eyes she saw herself as a little girl playing in a sun-drenched field of tall wheat. A beautiful woman holding an infant watched on, smiling and content. From the left, a soldier in blue and white galloped towards them on horseback, gun in hand. Edelmira opened her eyes in an attempt to stop the inevitable. Instant nausea reminded her of the bargain and with a deep breath she closed her eyes again in assent. Now, she saw herself hidden in the wheat. The pounding of hooves could not mask the sound of the soldier’s gun. He fired into the beautiful woman’s back once, twice, three times as she ran from him in terror. In the five seconds it took to fall forward onto the ground, she had managed to pull her baby closer in a spasm of protection. But, the innocent angel was pressed under her mother’s dead weight, setting her soul free as well. Edelmira opened her eyes screaming, ending the scene in operatic tragedy.
A high-pitched sound between her ears threw off her equilibrium. She returned to the memory, just for a moment, staring in shock through blood-stained wheat. Where were her mother and baby sister? But they were gone as soon as the vision faded.
He must have been alarmed, opening the doors onto such a bizarre scene – the new nanny, silhouetted by the first rays of morning sun, staring at him with piercing green eyes, long blond hair and tears running over porcelain skin – but Mr. Dunn, having survived the past sixty-two years as the Dawson’s manservant held an inscrutable face and voice.
“Good morning and welcome to Danbury. I am Mr. Dunn. You must be Aldamida. I will be taking your travelling chest to your room now.”
Poor unsuspecting Mr. Dunn, if only he could have known. He had accidentally mispronounced her name. She had long since given up correcting this offence. But today, after tackling the Medusa, boiling frustration was just waiting to be forced out. And, like a high pitched whistle from a tea pot, she screamed her name at him in her mind – Edelmira! Edelmira! Edelmira!
Suddenly, Mr. Dunn felt a bit confused and off balance. Regaining his composure, he finally asked, “I am sorry, can you repeat that? My hearing is not what it should be.”
But there was nothing to repeat except a pause and a gaze. My name means princess, she thought to herself, and wanted to cry even more. Instead, with flawless British English, Edelmira spoke out loud, “I will be taking a morning walk first.”
Mr. Dunn raised an eyebrow. The gossip was true. He could sense it. She was the dead duke’s daughter!
“Please do hurry. We are short of staff and the mistress will…” Before he could finish his sentence, Edelmira stood up, brushed herself off and headed into the moors. On her way, a red grouse revealed itself. Its famous trill ending in “go-back-go-back” awakened a beautiful memory from her past:
Espere por mim, meu amor. Eu vou lhe encontrar preve, meu amor. Wait for me, my love. I will find you, my love.
A decade seemed like yesterday as she remembered the small boat she was on as it pulled away from Porto’s shore. She was seventeen years old and those were the last words she would hear her lover speak. But they were enough to satisfy her for a lifetime. Through all the sadness and pain Edelmira’s bargain worked – her heart was untouched by bitterness.
Smiling at this thought she let warmth and love surface with the rising sun. Hidden by diaphanous clouds of mist and fog floating gracefully over vales of heather and flowing runnels, she began to dance. Swaying left and right, then leaping, jumping, prancing. It was a dance of freedom; a dance of strength. Celebrating with her, the spirits of the moors blessed her in her native tongue – Invencível, você é invencível! Invicincible, you are invincible!
Back at the manor, Edelmira’s dance could be sensed by the lonely little girl from the dragonfly’s message. A mysterious emotion, one bordering hope and power, piqued her curiosity as she watched from the second-floor window, trying to discern the movement she saw through the mist.
But children’s eyes, innocent and unconditional, see differently than adults.
“Father,” said the little girl, pointing out the window “look, it’s Princess, the horse you bought me for my birthday. She must have escaped from the stables and is prancing about.”
Placating her he responded, “Really darling? Where?”
“Can’t you see? In the moors.”