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Chapter Fifteen part 2
I stared at the lovely red-haired young woman, framed in the doorway, clad in a black velvet robe that was somewhere between a dressing gown and a priest's habit. She appeared like a fraught archetype that one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's painters might have dreamed up, perhaps a rendition of her own ominous name utilized in one of Shakespeare's most gruesome tragedies. But since I'd had plenty of experience with cursed paintings, I'd take Lavinia's three dimensions over canvas any day, though the reality of her panic and worry cut straight to the bone, her passionate heart exposed for all to see.
"And do you have any idea where your dear Mister Veil may have gone to?" Mrs. Northe replied, rising to her feet and going to the door, keeping utterly calm in the face of Lavinia's panic. "It seems we've a rash of handsome Englishmen disappearing out from under our noses."
"No," Lavinia fumed. She began pacing in the hall, like a nervous raven, black fabric swirling as she stalked. "I do not. But I have my suspicions. I believe he has returned to
. He said he wanted to help
Jonathon. He was looking all over for him yesterday. So I assume he's at least
part way across the pond." England
My heart seized with many emotions, firstly hope and pride that Jonathon had such good and loyal friends to rally around and help him. But I simultaneously seized up in pain, for I was not there, not a part of the chase, not immediately following after. After all, I had as much of a claim to him as a friend had... I was his love... I wanted to be his wife... Why the hell was I still in
New York when my heart
traveled across the Atlantic? My whole body
ached to run out the door and down to the piers right that very moment...
Mrs. Northe was eyeing me, and I had to keep my calm, for she was gauging me and I had to keep in her good graces. There would be no going anywhere if she suspected me...
I spoke very gently in my most reasonable tone. "Do you happen to know if Jonathon told Nathaniel he was leaving for
? Because he didn't give me
any clue—" England
"No," Lavinia replied, stopping her pacing to come into the room and speak with me. "He said he was hoping he'd have seen Jonathon but was struck by a memory of the persons who targeted the Denbury clan to begin with, a night he still feels guilty about. And I'm sorry to be so rude and think only of myself and my heart... But are you...feeling better, Miss Stewart?"
"Do call me Natalie, I insist, and yes, I am, thank you. Thank you for helping keep order in the house, I understand it was...difficult. I am sorry for—"
"You apologize for nothing. It was I who brought this whole terror upon us—"
"The Society targeted you, you couldn't have known—"
Lavinia's bright eyes flashed darkly. "I should not have let anything in," she moaned. Shame made her cheeks burn nearly the color of her hair. "I should not have given a substance faith that I didn't have in myself. I should not have allowed my Association, my treasured comrades, think, for even one moment, that there was a shortcut to their health when we've all taken such great and measured strides together." She clasped her graceful hands together. Her every move was theatrical, whether she knew it or not, and yet all of it entirely sincere. "Proven medicine for ailments is one thing. Risks like what I undertook? No. I hope one day I'll forgive myself, but today is not that day. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to write some letters of inquiry on Nathaniel's behalf." She bowed her dark red head and disappeared.
Mrs. Northe was about to open her mouth and comment on the situation when the doorbell rang and the door was opened unto my father, who was shown upstairs, and soon after, the maids rushed about to make sure all of us had tea in nearly the blink of an eye. None would look at me. Surely they were frightened. And yet they remained in this house. Mrs. Northe created that kind of unbreakable loyalty.
"I... I'm so relieved you're recovered," was all my father could manage, coming into the room. I struggled to stand for the first time in what had evidently been a few days, wincing from the aches, but it felt so good to be upright.
When my father looked at me, he still blanched, as if he were staring at a ghost. Mrs. Northe had been through enough séances and exorcisms, it would seem, to not have been phased by the toxin's effects upon me; she treated me no differently, and for that I was grateful.
But for my father, though the inexplicable things that had followed Jonathon and then, by default, me, become commonplace, they could never be fully understood, never fully accepted. And yet, despite this, he cared enough for me and for Mrs. Northe, for this family of fate, to try his best to stare it all fully in the face even though I knew how utterly terrified he was. I wondered if he heard my mother's whisper, ever, in his mind, and if it steeled his gentle heart that was so full of love it sufficed for strength. I'd like to think he did.
We stared at each other for a long moment, as if summing one another up. My heart twisted in anguish for what I knew I had to do, break his heart all over again and disappear once more. He might never forgive me. I had to take that risk. And looking at the kind, distinguished face of a man who simply wanted to love me, for me to be happy without threat... It nearly made me ill, sick, and enraged all over again. What right did any evil force have to try to sunder something so lovely as the persons I had in my life?
I thought I was going to finally go home with Father. I hadn't had the heart to ask precisely how long I'd actually been Mrs. Northe's crazed invalid...but he stopped me as I started gathering whatever of my things sitting around the vanity had been brought from home during the interlude.
"Natalie, not that I don't want you home, but perhaps one more day under this roof? To truly make sure you're...yourself again? I just..." And he looked at Mrs. Northe with a mixture of fear and wonder. "I feel you're safer around Evelyn than you would be around me. She can...protect you better than I could. She knows... I was helpless. I suppose your Jonathon knows too... I just...wouldn't... I don't know what to do..."
He was the same man who desperately wanted the best for me despite his own personal cost. When faced with my disability, when I stopped speaking after Mother died, he sent me away from home to the finest school that the country offered so that someone more skilled could help me. I only just now understood, looking into those eyes that seized my heart with the force of their love, that cleaving me from him for my own good was the hardest thing he ever had to do. He'd lost his wife, and here his daughter kept needing expert care that he could not provide. And yet he did not let his pride withhold what I needed. What trust in grace. What wondrous love.
I moved to my poor, overwhelmed father, and embraced him. Hard. "Go home and rest, Father, you look like you haven't slept in days."
"I haven't," he admitted.
"I'll be fine. I've gotten this far, haven't I?" I said, offering him a smile that he returned.
"By the grace of God," he murmured, kissing me on the head and slipping quietly back down the stairs. Mrs. Northe escorted him to the door, and I heard him thank her gently in the downstairs foyer. "I'm sorry for all the trouble, Evelyn," he added.
"You're quite welcome, Gareth," I heard her reply. "And no trouble was had. But if there had been, your family would be worth it."
There was a long moment before I heard the front door close. I actively did not think about what that long silence might have meant.
Mrs. Northe did not come back upstairs. Perhaps she was pondering the same things I was, how beautiful and rare it was that a loving gentleman left the women he cared most for in the world to their own devices. Not because he was not interested, or thought himself above the goings-on. But because he trusted us. Despite all we'd both done in direct opposition to what would have engendered trust. Surely, the late Helen Stewart was somewhere helping our family cope... Or, maybe, my father didn't need any help at all, he was just very gifted at letting people do what they did best and caring for them as they did so.
I was left alone. I found I didn't like that fact, as I felt as though I might jump out of my skin, impatient and restless. So, as with anything I didn't like, I sought a remedy for my state. I poked my head into the hall. Down the lavishly papered and plush-carpeted hall, Lavinia's door was open. I padded down to its frame and left one rap upon the dark wood.
At the sound, she looked up from a small Turkish suite where she sat writing by the lavender light of a gas lamp with a purple glass shade. It make her look oddly spectral, slightly ghastly. 'I was sure she'd like the effect, provided it was in her control. It was clear the Association appreciated theatrical morbidity but wasn't fond of violence or actual threat. They sought to make light of death, not actively court it. That's where the Society had misjudged them.
Lavinia gestured me in and rose to close the door behind us.
"So," she murmured. "We're in a similar boat, are we not?" As she emphasized the word boat, I wondered if Lavinia was, in fact, thinking exactly what I was thinking.
"I'll never be let out of here at this point, I fear," I replied. "Mrs. Northe knows me too well. But I have to escape. I have to get on a steamer, and I have to get to
. To London , to his estate, wherever he is...
The trouble is," I said, wringing my hands, feeling helplessness rise
inside me like the raging tides so recently had, "I don't know the first
thing about England, or international travel." Greenwich
"Well. Good thing I'm British, then, isn't it?" she replied. "I'll take you to
Natalie. I have to follow the man I love. As do you. And I feel much better
about it not undertaking it alone. Everything happens for a reason, so they
say, and one cannot fight the types of battles we've been chosen to fight on
our own." I stared at her. Her lovely face, one I'd seen so often scared
and nervous, was stalwart and resolute. I wondered if I'd looked the same way
when I'd made the dangerous decisions I had in protecting Jonathon in any
number of ways. Do not stand between a resolute lady and her love, that's for
I nodded, squeezing her hand. "Yes. All of this, yes, Lavinia, thank you. And I hope to leave as soon as possible—"
"Tonight. I've packed a bag, I've secured money. I knew my parents were tiring of me long before they cast me off, so I've gathered and saved a considerable amount, and I've been clever about it, lest I lose it all to one unscrupulous thief on the boat."
I stared at her, impressed. "Your parents were wrong to cast you out merely for company you keep. I think the Association is wonderful, creative, and true to themselves, and there's nothing inherently broken about any of you. It's the world that needs assimilation when the individual needs only one's self. I am glad that if I've been subjected to the hells I've been subjected to, that it's been alongside fairly spectacular company."
She beamed. "There's an early-morning steamer, but we'll be seen by house staff in the morning, so we'll leave tonight, at midnight, prevail upon a friend of mine who lives not terribly far from the Cunard offices, wait out the midnight hours, and tomorrow morning, we begin. It takes too many days to cross the
waste a single one more. Go to your guest room and gather what little useful
you can. We'll have to procure other items in transit." She moved to the
large mahogany wardrobe across the room, opened it, and handed me a hat box. It
wasn't luggage, but it would have to do.
I nodded at her and moved quietly into the hall. I remembered what had felt best when anything frightening had been placed in my path, and that was to move around it. To act. Paralysis would kill me. The only thing to fend off any recurrence of the madness that had overtaken me was to again stare the demons down, one by one. The Master's Society and all its misguided experiments preyed on a mixture of fear and chaos leading to conditions for domination. I had to hope the demons and their agency hadn't factored in the spirited rebellion of those they crossed. But it did make us marked targets.
I hoped that night I could dream, to pluck details from Jonathon's innermost mind, wherein I would also see, surely, clues to my own doom. I had to believe those warnings could be avoided. If some increasingly slippery part of this ungodly puzzle would come for me regardless, I might as well meet it in battle...---
(End of Chapter 15.2 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
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