The Visionist: A Novel

The Visionist: A Novel by Rachel Urquhart Read Free Book Online

Book: The Visionist: A Novel by Rachel Urquhart Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rachel Urquhart
as he did the dilapidated farm. He would hunt them if only to prove that much. Her eyes traveled the length of him, down the buttons of his ragged blue shirt, over stains on his soiled work pants, tallying his gnarled, yellow-nailed toes. To stare at him without fear was to see his power drained away. How easy it was to feel nothing. Her mind cleared, its thoughts unfolding logically with each steadying breath.
    Suddenly he coughed, bolting up wild-eyed to stare at her a moment before falling back on the bed. Polly jumped, stifling a scream with one hand as the lamp slid from the other. It fell, her father flopping onto his side away from her, asleep again in the silence before the crash. The sound of breaking glass was all she could hear as flames rose up in a roar from the puddle of spilled oil. Death come easy, said a voice inside her head, her body frozen until the time for doubting had passed.
    She turned and scrambled through the house and across the yard to where Mama and Ben were waiting. She heard Mama gasp; the horse shifted and tossed his head so violently that Polly had a time of it loosening the feed bag and untying the reins. She looked back towards the barn, where she could hear the animals panicking at the smell of smoke. She wanted to help them. Run! she screamed in her mind, hoisting herself atop the driver’s bench and slapping the leather reins over the old bay’s back. The cart jerked into motion. There was nothing more she could do.
    She prayed the blaze would fade once it had consumed her father, but a single glance told her she’d lit more than a funeral pyre. How quickly the past is made gone. Fire roared up through the windows, the inferno wrapping round the house as she drove away. In the fury of flames Polly could see the blackness of her father’s gaze just as she could feel the force of his will in the suck of their heat. She could find in her heart no space for pity.
    Later, there would be time for them to decide what to do. Perhaps there would be mill work in one of the bigger towns, for the noisy factories seemed hungry for young women like herself, girls with nimble hands and sharp eyes. Mama might be able to find employment as a domestic, once she became well again. Polly shook off the hope that they would encounter much in the way of charity. If life had taught her anything it was that trusting Fate to human kindness was like leaning on the wind.
    With the turning of the cart track just ahead, she allowed herself to look back once more. The fire was hypnotizing, but then…Were her eyes playing tricks? Though she could not be sure, she thought she saw a smaller blaze spat from the larger, moving, running, falling to the ground and rolling over and over, then up and running again. She closed her eyes against the thought, for surely it was a mere twist of the mind. The flames had been too hot. Not even a man possessed of such evil as her father could have survived. Could he?
    She faced forward and concentrated on the road ahead. The horse was blowing hard, breath steaming from his chocolate-colored nostrils; every so often when he turned his head at the sound of dry leaves whispering in the trees, he revealed the whites of his eyes and a flowering of foam at his mouth. The old boy wants to leave as sorely as we do, Polly thought. If only the way were not so difficult.
    Cold. It was cold on the wooden cart bench where she sat bone to bone next to Mama, Ben still asleep in his mother’s lap. They turned onto the Post Road, a worn track leading away from town. It was several miles to a neighboring cluster of houses round a small common where townsfolk grazed their fat cattle and held meetings when there was something of a communal nature to discuss. How separately they had lived from the people of this world. Polly went but once a week, to bargain for what they could afford by offering what they could live without. Eggs, butter, cheese—during the good months, they could spare a little of

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