Chapter Ninety-Nine: Honor

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“Evelyn, I….” The hoarse words caught as his thick tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He cleared his throat. “I… Are you… Evelyn?” He leaned forward, squinting against the light from the window. It threw him off balance and he swayed a bit, then steadied himself with his free hand. 

He took a swig from the bottle again and wiped his mouth with a grimy sleeve.

All of this time I had imagined our reunion, playing the possible permutations over and over again in my heart. It always ended the same way: Love. Joy. His embrace. 

This was none of those things. 

I was too late…

I wanted to retch.

This shadow was no longer the man I loved. I had been duped. I cursed that woman under my breath. I should have known better. So foolish.

I cannot not stay here. 

Frantic thoughts.

I retied the bonnet quickly, lowered the veil. Snatching up the valise from the dusty floor, I hesitated for a moment.

“No. I am not Evelyn. I am sorry. I have made a very grave mistake.” 

He stared intently as I crossed from the window, past the chairs. Recognition crept slowly across his face, then left again.

Another uncertain swig.

Reaching the door, he grabbed my arm, pulling me close up against his body. He struggled to focus the jaundiced eyes, his face inches away from mine. Even filtered through the fabric of the black veil his breath was rancid with decay.

“Let me go!” I hissed as I yanked my arm away.

“Anne?” He moved to stand in front of me, strangely agile for a man who moments before had looked as if he would topple over. “You came back?”

“No.” I shoved him hard. 

In slow motion I watched as he fell, crumpling to the floor. 

He moaned.

Love was supposed to be unconditional? I felt nothing for this man. No remorse. No hatred. No sadness. No love.

Who am I, now?

My whole identity had been wrapped up in him for so long…

But then, there was the other half of that question:

How did I become so cold, so calculated? So unremorseful?

I stepped across his body, lying motionless across the threshold, and made my way down the stairs. 

The arrogance of pursuing what we cannot have. It is blinding, maddening.

Back in the cool morning air, I breathed deeply. My feet carried me several blocks away, weaving in and out among the men on their way to work and the women on their way to market. Walking fast. They were going toward something. 

I was running away. 

It was some time before I felt my head and heart clear. Tears stung my eyes, thankfully hidden beneath the mourning veil. 

It was appropriate, this black. 

I stopped at a corner, standing still, letting the world rush on without me. Carts and carriages rattled past, men shouted greetings to each other. 

Honor.

We should honor what was, what had been. Honor the hope of a future now passed.

He was dying. He had killed himself. 

“Are you alright, madame?” A young gentleman in a dark grey overcoat stood watching me, concerned. English. Here in Edinburgh. How long had he been there? How long had I been there? 

He offered his arm. 

“No,” I shook my head. “No thank you.”

The man tipped his tall hat, shrugged, and walked on.

I turned around, walking slowly back to Lauriston Street. He would not die alone but he also would not take me with him, I would make sure of that.

Chapter Ninety-Eight: Threshold

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The foyer was dim. It was clear that this was not a home so much as a cluster of apartments.

It smelled stale and musty, so much so, in fact, that it could be tasted as I opened my mouth to breathe to prevent the odor from permeating my nostrils.

I pounded on the worn door of a downstairs apartment only to have it opened by a scowling, stooped old woman who looked at me suspiciously.

“What?” she demanded.

“I am looking for Nathaniel Brierly.”

“Up there. Top floor.” She cocked her head, using her chin to indicate the direction.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

She nodded curtly, staring at me for a few moments before closing her door with a slam that made me jump.

Every step I mounted creaked in protest from the weight. A different tone or pitch rose from each as I climbed to the third floor flat.

Would it be locked? Should I knock? Or just enter?

I reached the landing and stopped at the door. I put my hand on the rough wood. What future lay on the other side? Happiness? I wanted happiness. Happiness and love and rest. 

I am so tired of fighting. 

I tried the door tentatively. It cracked open. Unlocked. No knocking, I decided. I would just enter. 

Pushing the door open further, I crossed the threshold. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust further to the darkness. Small slivers of light beamed through cracks at the edges of the heavy drapes, a shard here and a shard there, trapping dust in its light. 

No fire. 

I shivered. Was it cold? 

Walking to the far window, my eyes explored the room. It appeared empty. I pushed the drapes open with a flourish letting light flood in. I moved to the next window, doing the same. I squinted in the light as it assaulted my eyes. Lifting the veil and removing the bonnet, I paused for a moment letting the warm sun hit my face.

Deep breath.

Before I could turn around a snarl came from behind me. “Close them, you fool! Close them or they will see you.”

I turned to see a man standing framed in the doorway, shielding his face from the light with an arm. There was a bottle in one hand. He lurched forward, spilling liquor on his clothes and upon the bare floor. A bloated belly made it appear as if he were with child. The exposed skin of his hands glowed a sickly yellow.

“I said close the drapery!” Another snarl.

He lowered the arm and took another menacing step then stopped.

Should I run? Who was this monster?

“Evelyn?” he gasped softly.

Chapter Ninety-Seven:¬†The Next Chapter

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Where had she gone?

There was no doubt that she had disappeared into thin air. A magic, dark and powerful, filled with hate and anger and sadness, was involved… I had felt it throw me to the ground. It had crawl into my heart before it recoiled and fled. What did it see there?

I still felt a lingering cold and despair. Was it her despair?

Why?

She had said she no longer wanted to live in my shadow. Nathaniel did not love her as he loved me. I felt a certain pride in that fact. I had won after all, hadn’t I?

Her daughters were dead. They were the innocent casualties. I could not feel for them now, faceless as they were.

Was she dead? Or transported to another life, another time? Would she ever come back to haunt me?

Sunlight had broken over the horizon and bathed the rooftops in bright yellow. I shifted my skirts as the carriage made its way to Lauriston Street. The hem of the black mourning crepe was damp from the dew of the graveyard and black dye rubbed off onto my fingers.

No matter. It will dry.

My heart was pounding we came to a stop. A rocking signaled that the driver had stepped down. In seconds he had opened the door with a flourish and held out his hand to me. I placed my black gloved hand in his and stepped out.

The veil did not protect enough from the blinding sun glancing off of the third floor windows of the brownstone to prevent me from squinting as I looked up. It certainly looked respectable enough.

I could live here. 

I smiled to myself, relaxing somewhat, and took a step toward the front door. It was shiny and red with a large, simple brass knocker.

“No, Mrs. Brierly. Over there.” That name on his lips startled me.  I had given it to myself, to him. Still, to hear it on someone else’s lips….

He handed me the valise and pointed across the narrow street to another brownstone. The windows were dark with grime and the front steps were dirty. The door was propped open halfway, revealing stairs.

Surely not.

I checked the paper again, confused.

“Shall I wait for ye?” He stared at me kindly, expectantly.

I shook my head no silently as I pressed money into his hand.

“Are ye sure, lass?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

I could barely breathe, anxiety and fear gripped my chest.

Had she given me the wrong address on purpose? Was this her revenge?

I did not want this man to serve as witness to my humiliation.

Crossing the street, I stood staring at the steps until I heard the carriage depart. Only then did I push the door open further and entered.

Chapter Ninety-Six: Buried Grief

  
It was October 1st, 1858. The dawn of a new life awaited me this day, surely. I had suffered long enough.

It had been a decade since I had last stepped foot off of a train onto the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and yet the place still smelled and looked the same: damp, gloomy, mysterious, and medieval. 

The wheels of the carriage jolted as they hit each pothole along the way. I could feel each one in my bones.  

There were untold secrets, magic lurking in every wynd, every alleyway…

“Here ye go, lassie. The New Calton Cemetery…” The driver paused as he handed me out of the carriage. The dim light of the moments just before sunrise made the concern on his face barely discernible. I handed him a few extra coins. “It is still dark and the ground is drookit. Ain’t ye feart?” 

The gate appeared closed but I could see the light, low fog beyond mingling with the dark stones. The graveyard stood on a hill overlooking the city. The watch tower lay just beyond the entrance.

“I will be fine, sir. I am visiting my husband’s grave, I know my way.” Lying had become second nature to me now. I smiled at him.

“Shall I wait fer ye?” 

“Yes, please.” 

I walked to the gate, pushing gently against the cold metal. I could feel the chill of the ironwork through my gloves. It gave way easily, opening with a slight groan of displeasure. I slipped inside and pulled it closed behind me.

I walked quickly. 

There was not much time.

The stones grew older as I went, skeletons, angels of death, skulls…

Northwest corner….

Soon I could see the dark figure of a woman, also in full mourning dress. Black ghosts in the mist. She lifted her veil as I approached.

“Mrs. Brierly,” I murmured, warily. I was still unsure if I could trust her.

She nodded to me, coldly, a half smile playing upon her lips. The arched stone rose up behind her. It was newer than the other stones around us, just large enough for someone to walk through.

“You are ready?” she asked.

“Yes.” I took a deep breath and drew myself up taller.

She pulled a slip of paper and a small, pointed knife with a gilt handle out of the reticule at her wrist. “Here is the address.” 

I glanced at it, then tucked it into my sleeve.

1203 Lauriston Street

“Come here.” She commanded. I stepped closer until I was standing next to the arch itself. “Let me have your right hand.”

I held out my hand to her. She pulled off the glove.

“This will hurt.”

She pricked my ring finger. I winced, resisting the urge to pull away. A drop of dark red blood rose up. Still holding firmly to my wrist, she wiped the blood across a name carved into the stone. 

The breath caught in my chest. 

It was her name. 

Died, October 1st, 1858 aged thirty-one years.

Before I could ask, she released my hand. She pulled the glove off of her own hand and removed her wedding band, handing it to me. She pricked her own finger, wiping it also across the stone letters, murmuring a few unintelligible words. 

She pulled a gun from her belt and laid it on the ground. “That is in case this does not work.” 

“Why?” I was confused.

Her gaze was distant, far away. “My daughters died in the typhus outbreak seven months ago. Watching your children die one after the other, burning with fever and out of their minds, knowing there is nothing you can do to save them….” Her voice trailed off. She looked at me again, suddenly, fixing me with her determined eyes. “There is nothing left for me here. I would rather die than continue in this hell.”

I felt pity for her.

A few bright rays of sunshine were piercing through the gray of the morning, falling into the archway itself.

“I am running away. Far away,” she said, smiling.

She pulled off the mourning veil and slipped out of the black dress. Beneath she wore clothing that curiously resembled a man’s work clothes. Brown pants. A homespun shirt that buttoned down the front. She pulled her hair out of the braids and mussed the curls. Using the knife, she cut her hair short, jagged, letting the discarded locks fall into a haphazard pile on the ground. A hat then covered the mess. She wore work boots on her feet, thick and crude and had fashioned a pouch around her neck. It appeared heavy and I could hear coins rattling against each other inside.

And then?

She stepped into the archway without even speaking another word and was gone. 

Gone? 

I circled the stone. Indeed. She had disappeared into thin air.

How?

I touched her blood stained name and a force knocked me backwards to the ground. For a few moments it felt as though I could not breathe. 

Slowly the air returned to my lungs and I stood up, looking around. Not a soul was present. At least not of the living kind.

I picked up the gun from the ground. It felt heavy in my hand. I debated taking it but instead put it back down. 

I would not be needing it. 

I looked closely at the ring in my hand and then slipped it on over my still throbbing finger. It should have been mine in the first place. I replaced the glove.

Dressed in mourning with the long veil, I would be able to slip into the house undetected, even in the bright light of full morning.

My heart sang as I walked back to the waiting carriage.