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Open Features: The Enclosure

...Billy watched enchanted, mesmerized, caught in the magic of the sight before his eyes.. The thought came to him again that she looked like an angel, a wood nymph, a fairy, a ballerina all the beautiful beings in his sisters’ books combined together, unearthly but perfect...

Miriam McAtee tells a mysterious and magical story.

The Gothic house had stood alone, empty and neglected for several years. No one had shown any interest in it or occupied it for several decades. Once a year an attempt was made by the property agent to clear weeds and creepers from around the house, but that was about all that was done to it. There were flower beds filled with roses and other colourful plants at one time but they had been strangled by weeds and had given up the fight a long time ago. The house looked more ghostly and haunted as the years passed, with the surrounding forest creeping nearer and nearer in its attempt to invade.

The house had been named The Enclosure ever since anyone one in the village and their fathers and grandfathers remembered. The origin of the name was unknown but it must have meant a safe haven at one time, a place of warmth and love, but the echoes of those happier times had faded a long time ago. The nameplate had once shone bright and golden; now it lay among the weeds blackened and unrecognizable, kicked out of sight. The house itself was now being enclosed - the forest was taking over.

Several years ago a group of children had played hide and seek in the forest around the house but one of them never came home and to this day no one knew what happened to the child and though long and desperate searches were made the child was never found. There was a dark and gloomy pool deep in the forest and a rapid stream running across one corner of the property. There were bogs and swamps and crops of rocks with deep crevices……anything could have happened to the child. Now no children played there. Some villagers swore the place was haunted, that they could hear a child wailing, or weird music or someone singing but that was probably only their imagination or some of them with a whimsical sense of humour playing a trick on the others.

Then things at The Enclosure suddenly changed. A team of people opened up the house, let in air and sunlight, cleaned painted and repaired and put in new blinds and curtains. At last it appeared that The Enclosure was going to be occupied again. The villagers were curious about the new owners; ‘foreigners’ from a city a hundred miles away they were told. When the new family arrived with a van filled with packing crates and boxes the young ones from the village took a sneak peak at them from behind bushes and trees around the house.

Jack the gardener whose father and grandfather before him had at one time looked after the garden was employed to clear up the grounds surrounding the house, then was kept on to attend to the garden a couple times a week. Jack however was getting old and tired easily so he got his youngest son Billy to help him. A couple of women from the village were also employed, one as cook and the other as maid. Neither was prepared to live in however.

When the women were questioned about the new owners by curious neighbours and friends they had little to report except that the husband was a quiet man, talked little to them, mostly in the study while they were around, and seemed a lot older than his wife. The wife was pleasant enough, quietly spoken, but she wasn’t chatty either and was usually reading or embroidering something in the morning room. The daughter was a very pretty girl but a little strange they thought, as she seemed to drift aimlessly around the house and garden humming softly to herself or tinkling strange music on the piano.
The young gardener Billy who hadn’t been too happy in school was happy to work in the garden, enjoying the outdoor life. His father was pleased to see that he was instinctively good with plants and left more and more of the work to him, only turning up to supervise or help now and again. When Billie was questioned about the new family, he was tongue-tied about the daughter and avoided talking about her.

Secretly, Billy was overwhelmed by the young girl’s beauty ever since he saw her on the day that the family arrived. He had been asked to help move the crates and had noticed at once how her golden hair caught the sun and formed a halo round her face and the wide eyes that shone a glowing blue as she looked curiously about her. Billy had never seen anyone so beautiful and often eyed her from the garden when she stood at her bedroom window upstairs and looked out towards the forest. Sometimes she’d wander into the garden to smell or gently finger the flowers, smile at him with a soft hello and wander away again.

Billy himself was a good looking boy, strong but lithely built and bronze in the summer, with light brown hair that fell untidily over his forehead . The village girls thought he was a heart throb, and giggled and nudged each other when they saw him, and though he sometimes eyed them, he was not truly interested, preferring to spend his time with girls and boys he had grown up with and known all his life. Billy found that this strange feeling which he kept to himself for the lovely girl who lived in The Enclosure was new and exciting and looked forward eagerly to the days when he worked in the garden, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

Billy had learnt from the maid that the girl’s name was Estelle which he thought was pretty but unusual. He plucked up his courage and visited his old teacher in the village to ask about the name Estelle as he had never known of anyone called that before. When his teacher told him that Estelle meant Star Billie thought what a wonderful name that was for her. He smiled as he remembered that she had looked like a star the first time he saw her when the sun shone on her golden hair making it glint brightly around her face. His old teacher caught his smile and warned him:

“Son, Estelle means Star – and stars stay high up in the sky, out of reach”.

“I know,” Billy acknowledge but he was still smiling when he left.

Sometimes Estelle would drift off into the woods on her own, and Billy would stare wordlessly after her, afraid. Afraid for her, afraid of the wood’s hidden secrets that the girl would not know anything about; for the woods held secrets, he was sure. He couldn’t pluck up the courage to warn her or say more than a word or two to her. What was there to tell her anyway – the forest was dangerous? It was haunted? That one of his young friends had gone missing in its grounds several years ago and was never seen again? How could he tell her of the weird wailing and music some of the old villagers and even some of his own friends say they heard? Was it only their imagination or perhaps just village gossip?

Billy didn’t know how to approach the girl. She was out of his class; he was just a humble village boy and she was…….to him she was a Princess.

So life such as it was went on quietly at the Enclosure for a dozen months or more and no one knew very much about the family that occupied it. They didn’t mix with anyone and seldom came into the village. Groceries and household items were ordered by the cook or maid and delivered when necessary. People in the village grew used to their strange ways and mostly forgot about them as time went on but Billy, working in the garden during the day, murmured Estelle’ s name in his dreams at night.

One day when Estelle again drifted silently into the woods, Billy followed but he soon lost her among the trees and shrubs that were thickly overgrown with creepers. Parts of the woods were dark and umbrageous and let in no light . He feared for her safety and once when she hadn’t returned home by the time he finished work, spent a restless night worrying about her. He left early for work the next morning, to find out if Estelle had returned safely. He was glad to see her standing at her bedroom window as she often did, looking dreamily out towards the forest. He stood quietly gazing up at her relieved that she was safe.

*

Billy kept on secretly trying to follow Estelle, only to end up losing her in the woods . He was puzzled by her disappearance…….where did she go? What did she find to do there? Once while trying to follow her, he thought he heard music and a girl singing but he saw nothing and was angry at himself for being fanciful like the rest of the village.

At last one day he caught up with her and plucked up enough courage to ask where she was going.

Estelle smiled and said “My secret place.”

“But it’s……it’s dangerous in the woods…….”

“Dangerous? Oh no, it’s beautiful there. I love it!”

“Can I come with you?” Billy dared ask.

“No you can’t, I like being on my own,” she replied firmly and continued on her way.

He stood still and let her go, and by the time he decided to follow her anyway, he’d lost her again.

*

One day Billy was lucky. Wandering around as usual looking for Estelle, he suddenly came across her but he could only stop and stare in amazement at the sight. She was bathed in a golden light in an unexpectedly clear patch in the forest where the sky was high and clear above the trees and the sun shone down. She was dancing………twirling and twisting to some music he could not hear, her face enrapt, her hair and skirt flying around her. She was lost in a world of her own, under a spell. She danced like a ballerina – not that he had ever seen one but he had noticed them in his younger sisters’ picture books. He did not dare approach her so he hid behind a tree and watched her for several minutes, awed by her grace and beauty with her face lifted up to the sun. Eventually he slipped quietly away, knowing that she would have been angry to discover him peeping at her.

*

Some weeks later Billy unexpectedly found her again and watched scarcely breathing, even imagining hearing music, but he must have moved or made some sound for Estelle abruptly stopped dancing and peered about her. The light shining down on her just as suddenly disappeared, the branches seemed to close in and the place became shadowy.

She gasped when she discovered Billy behind a tree.

“You shouldn’t have followed me!” she cried.

“I..I am sorry,” he stammered. “what are you doing, dancing here all alone?”

She tossed her head in anger refusing to explain.

“ You must not follow me.” she chided and started to walk away . She seemed to know the way home and Billy silently followed. They parted at the edge of the garden. She was still angry with him and told him never to follow her again.

*

Billy found it hard to keep his promise. He looked for her when she went alone into the woods, but she was swift and silent so he always lost her. But Billy wouldn’t give up, he was fascinated by her but he also feared for her safety. When he found her several days later in the same place, he couldn’t help but watch quietly as she danced, graceful, and as unaware as ever, of her surroundings. This time he was sure that he heard music, even felt its rhythm. He couldn’t tell where the sound came from but it was haunting and sad but beautiful and he was enthralled.

When a slight movement from him alerted her, she stood still and looked about her and when she spied him, chided again:
“ I said not to follow me! Why did you?”.

As before the woods closed in and hid the sky above and the light was gone. The woods returned to gloom.

“I couldn’t help it. I wanted to watch you. You are so beautiful.” Billy stammered in reply.

Suddenly, her anger disappeared and she said almost kindly:
“ I’ve seen you watching me from the garden. But you mustn’t follow me into the woods”

“Why? Why can’t I come with you?”

“Because you can’t, you really mustn’t!……. Promise me you won’t!”

Billy seeing that she was getting agitated reluctantly did, though he doubted that he would be able to keep his promise.

*

On another day when Billy again quietly followed Estelle she spied him early on and stopped dead in her tracks but she couldn’t stay cross with him. They were at the dawning of adulthood and were attracted to each other without being quite aware of their feelings. In their own way, they were lonely. She refused to dance for him however but they strolled companionably together till they found a rock in a small clearing and sat on it side by side. They were from different backgrounds and were shy and hadn’t much to say to each other to begin with but they were curious about each other and when they met again they found that conversation became easier.

On one occasion Billy carved a star on a nearby tree trunk and Estelle gave him a light kiss for it. They were both flustered afterwards, but she let him hold her hand when they walked home together. The next time Billy put a wild flower in her hair and she gave him another peck on the cheek and this time he dared kiss her gently back.

When they next met Billy grew bolder. Holding her hand he showed her the forest he knew, where there was a stream and a lake that looked quiet and peaceful, but was perhaps deep and dangerous. He warned her not to wander around on her own and told her about the young friend who disappeared several years ago, never to be found.

On this occasion they were a little late getting back and when Estelle got home her father said, “Where have you been? Were you with that boy? I noticed he wasn’t around either…..”

“I just took a walk in the woods, Father.” Her father didn’t say any more but looked suspiciously at her. When Estelle told Billy about her father becoming suspicious he decided to meet her after work, but the nights were drawing in and there wasn’t much daylight left.

Billy told Estelle he loved her and wanted to dance with her in her circle of light. Estelle shook her head again warning him that it could be dangerous.

“I don’t care, I want to be with you…….how can it be dangerous?”

Estelle said she didn’t know; it was just a feeling she had.
Billy suddenly remembered his lost friend and shivered but he didn’t care – he was in love for the first time in his life and it was magic in the woods with Estelle, and the forest now held no fears for him with her by his side.

“Please?” he begged, refusing to give up.

Eventually Estelle said “Maybe next time……” but wouldn’t promise him anything.

It wasn’t easy to meet secretly in the woods, Billy sensed Estelle’s parents watchful eye and he was sure the housekeeper was also keeping an eye on him, so he decided to stop following Estelle for a while. It didn’t last, he could not keep away from her for long and in desperation to be with her, he threw all caution to the wind and when she strolled into the woods as he was finishing up early one afternoon, he quickly followed. When he caught up with her he grabbed her hand. Take me to your secret place, dance with me, he begged. What can go wrong? he asked. They held hands and looked into each other’s eyes and at last Estelle said: 'If you are sure….'

'Yes, yes, very sure,' Billy replied eagerly.

Estelle took his hand and led him deeper into the woods. Billy was completely lost but he trusted her as she guided him to her special place. Suddenly she stopped. She told him they were almost there. Billy looked eagerly around but there was nothing to be seen, just the endless woods silent and watching.

“ Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes!”

“Then wait here…….I will go ahead…… the light does not always come on and the forest remains dark and silent. Don’t move! And you must wait till I call you….remember that!”

Estelle moved slowly forward. Billy stood still and watched. Suddenly a glow appeared from the sky above unhindered by trees and branches. Creepers and vine receded and left a fresh circle on the ground like a green velvet covered stage.

The light caught and held Estelle and she seemed to shimmer and become even more beautiful. She lifter her arms towards the light that embraced her. Then Billy heard the music …….slow and quiet at first and Estelle just swayed from side to side with her eyes closed lost in its haunting melody. As the music became stronger and faster she moved with it, twisting and twirling tirelessly to the rhythm. The light and the music became her world and she was oblivious of her surroundings.

Billy watched enchanted, mesmerized, caught in the magic of the sight before his eyes.. The thought came to him again that she looked like an angel, a wood nymph, a fairy, a ballerina all the beautiful beings in his sisters’ books combined together, unearthly but perfect…..….. and she had forgotten him.

Estelle had told Billy quite firmly to wait for her call, but he desperately wanted to hold her and dance in the light with her. Billy could no longer wait and he felt himself being drawn inexorably towards the light; nothing could have stopped him and his promise to Estelle to wait was forgotten. Billy glided inevitably forward, and murmuring her name “Estelle, Estelle,” he stepped into the light.

*

No one saw Estelle or Billy ever again although the police made a thorough search. There was not a trace of them anywhere, not a clue to be found – no scrap of clothing or skin or hair. It was exactly like the child who had disappeared all those years ago.

Estelle’s parents were confounded and heart-broken. They couldn’t understand what had happened to their beloved daughter. Billy’s family cried for him, but there was nothing to explain what happened to Estelle and Billy. They simply disappeared together and were never seen again.

When all hope was lost, Estelle’s parents packed up and left. The Enclosure was closed and shuttered, left empty again. The villagers drew together in fear when The Enclosure was mentioned so no-one spoke its name. It became neglected as before. The woods crept nearer and nearer as the years went by and in time the house was engulfed by creepers and vine and left to live its life once more enclosed and encaged by the forest.

Only Estelle’s and Billy’s parents remembered as long as they lived how The Enclosure once was.

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