William was true to his word and we were on a ship bound for the states by the end of the week. Central Paris was crowded and dirty, with dark Medieval streets. There were bright spots in the city: The Louvre, Place de la Concorde, the Grande Opera at the Salle Le Peletier, and oddly the Pere Lachaise cemetery. That cemetery had drawn me in as I had never seen anything like it before. Taken on the whole, however, I was glad to be leaving Paris behind.
I had not written to my mother to alert her, thinking that I would surprise her and my father. As much as I disliked my father’s promiscuous proclivities, he was still my father and I was concerned about his health. I was not sure what I would find when we arrived but did not want to give anyone any time to attempt to conceal the truth.
It had been decided that we would be staying at my parents home while we readied our own. A wedding gift from my parents was a grand house several miles from their own that I was told had already been purchased in anticipation of my marriage. I began to dream about how the house would appear, each of the rooms taking shape in my mind’s eye as I filled them with furniture, drapery, and the like. I had made mental notes of things that I had seen in France that I wanted to replicate.
On the voyage, William and I continued to learn more about each other. Ease and familiarity grew as did friendship. With little else to do as we traversed the Atlantic, we talked and read to each other.
We arrived in Boston Harbor in the early morning hours of November 29th. Snow was upon the ground, freshly fallen. After disembarking, William arranged for a carriage to transport us to my parents home in Cambridge. Our baggage would follow later in a hired wagon.
As we rode down the lane to the family estate on the Charles River, dread mounted. The bare trees, with their icy fingers, stood as dark sentries on each side of the drive. Then the house loomed ahead. White with two floors, four great columns stretched across the front. The servants quarters and kitchen were in the back.
How uncomfortable would it be to see my father and mother, knowing that they would know what things I had done with William in the night? What state would my father’s health be in? And could my mother and I make peace? Did I want to make peace?
The carriage slowed to a stop and William stepped out, offering his hand to help me alight. As we arrived at the door, William twisted the knob to ring the bell. I could hear my father’s raised voice through the heavy oak panels. I could not tell what he was shouting. How strange it felt to ring the bell at my former home, arriving now as a guest. In fact I had never really paid attention to our doorbell before. It was something I had taken for granted. We waited a few minutes in the cold, but no one came to the door. William looked at me. I shrugged. This time, William rang the bell again and then clapped the heavy brass doorknocker loudly for good measure. Finally, the door was opened by the butler, Duncan. A look of surprise and horror crossed his face as he recognized me and realized who William must be. He stepped back slowly and allowed us to enter. He closed the door quickly against the stiff wind.
“Miss Evie…uh…I mean Miss Evelyn…Mistress…Brierly…your father…” He said this in hushed tones but was cut off by a roar of agony from the library that was unmistakably from my father. I passed him my bonnet and cloak silently and made my way to the open door of the library. I could see that the curtains were drawn, the room dark. As I crossed the threshold, I found my father in his leather armchair by the fire with a wrap tucked around his body up to his neck, leaving only his head exposed. His eyes were red and bloodshot in the dim light, tears pouring from his eyes as he rubbed them continuously. They must pain him immensely. As I approached, he looked up fearfully.
“Who is there?” he bellowed. I stopped. He stared straight at me. I knew he could see me, but no look of recognition crossed his face. “Who are you?” he asked a bit more calmly. Confused, I did not answer. What was going on here? The fire popped and sparked, startling us both. “HELP ME!” he cried, struggling to rise as he reached for a cane that had been propped on the other side of the chair. The coverlet slipped to the floor, exposing a large ulcerated patch on his left leg. He succeeded in standing and took a few steps toward me with an odd slapping gait.
My heart sank. I had seen this before once, in the village. A woman several years ago. She had suffered greatly as the disease ate at her face and she had worn a metal prosthetic nose for some time to hide the ulcerating cavity that had taken her flesh. I wondered if he had known her.
The French disease…syphilis.