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Everingham Gothic, 4

October 31, 2016 10:34AM

Everingham Gothic

Searching for answers or even hope was like hunting a needle in a haystack when I was not even certain I had the right haystack.

Haddick offered to let me look through his papers on the topic of Lost Souls. From a sense of pity or a desire to help me learn this new lesson, he even stayed in the room with me to help. He recited stories which were vague and allegorical. Eventually I asked him to leave. His presence was too chaffing, his certainty too cold.

Alone, I prayed. I was inarticulate and fearful and unworthy.

Having lit the lamps, I was still there as I heard a gong sound, announcing dinner. Had I really wasted the entire afternoon and evening? Had I nothing to show for it?

I splashed some water on my face but did not bother to go back to my room to change. There was no time and there was no point for such frivolity.

Susan pulled me aside to ask where I had been all day. I told her tersely that I had been in the warden's office but I could not spare more words.

I ate because I was hungry after not having tea but I don't remember the meal. The conversation was also something in which I took no part. Mrs. Grant was on edge; her brother was morose; Makepeace and Hewitt, Susan, Sir John and the warden kept the conversation flowing amid mundane and angelic subjects.

After the women retired to the drawing room, Mrs. Grant immediately pled fatigue and left for her bed. I waited five minutes then announced that I too was retiring. I needed to change my clothes and take a walk. I had had too little exercise during my studies today.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Susan offered.

"No," I told her. "I promise to stay close to the manor, and I want to be alone."

Dressed for patrolling with Guillaume at my side, I snuck out through a side door to the gardens. Light from inside seeped over the landscape from several windows. I stole to where the shadows were full and began my pacing. Guillaume danced his patterns automatically as thoughts, plans, and prayers tumbled through my head.

I walked around the perimeter a few times.

The first part of any plan I conjured was to assemble martial blessings that might have some effect against my cousin. I didn't want to hurt Edmund but he was beyond my ability to help. Crawford and Mary Frances, on the other hand, needed me.

Edmund and I had always shared a special bond. I might yet be able to reach him and plead with his tender feelings to show mercy. Should diplomacy fail me, I would have to use force to get him to yield.

A patch of darker shadow detached itself from the other shapes. The last thing I wanted to deal with now was another distraction, something to weaken me before a more important trial.

The figure stopped moving when it had secured my interest. "Miss Price?" it spoke. I instantly recognized it as Crawford. My hold on Guillaume relaxed and I sheathed him at my side.

"You should not sneak up on me," I scolded.

"I was not trying to," Crawford said, feeling confident enough to approach me now. "The warden said he spoke to you about the situation."

In that moment, I was angry at him for relying on others to communicate for him: his sister, my father, Haddick. Who else knew more than me? Who knew the one piece of information I would need to save them both?

"And have you anything to add? Anything else I should know?" My tone was waspish and unkind. "If I learn you are keeping anything else from me, Crawford, I swear I will kill you myself."

He was more surprised than hurt by my words. The pressure, the fear, the thousand cares boiled up within him and spilled out in an uneasy, mad bark of laughter. He nervously reached for my hand.

"Oh, Miss Price, how I have missed you! How I have wanted you here!" He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it.

He did not release my hand but held it to his cheek. Choking sobs broke from his throat but still he did not let me go. I felt my own eyes grow wet.

It was not in my heart to withhold comfort at a time like this. With my free hand, I stroked his hair.

Words and noises tumbled out of his mouth, disjointed and nearly unintelligible. He wanted at all costs to spare his sister as much as possible. His sister and his niece were his primary concerns. All his actions were designed to ease their lives when the inevitable happened. Even his death had been planned to appear accidental.

And yet he was so frightened. He had seen what had become of Edmund Bertram and he feared for himself. He did not want bitterness and darkness to consume him, but it would be impossible to know what would happen once he took his own life. Damnation was eternal, after all.

And as he watched the remaining hours of his life slip away, there was so much that he would miss, and it filled him with loss and regret. He would never see his niece grow up, never know what kind of woman she would become. He would never see Everingham restored to its former glory. He would never see me again, or earn my disapprobation.

"Then let me tell you now that I heartily disapprove," I told him.

He smiled, regaining his composure. “I was hoping you would tell me it was all unnecessary.”

I supposed that it would have been unnecessary had Crawford not killed Edmund. Edmund would have died in the fire anyway; he was too enraged to rescue himself. I would have died as well but I would have been a martyr, and Crawford would surely have been rescued by someone before the fire spread too far. Edmund could not have come back as a Lost Soul if there was no one to whom he could attach. It should have ended at Mansfield Park. But Crawford saved my life and in that act endangered his own immortal soul.

“Nothing I have read today suggests any other possibility, but I have yet to speak with Edmund again,” I said. I did not want him to hope foolishly nor did I want him to slip further into despair. “Who knows what may happen?”

Crawford soaked in this news. “I thought as much. You would never have let me carry on otherwise.”

“I am going in now. I can leave you? You will not do anything rash before we can speak again in the morning?” Everyone must go into the garden and face their hour of desperation alone but I did not want to leave him so unsettled. I also knew that I could not predict what would happen when I closed my eyes, but I wanted to be the first available soul to Edmund. I wanted to speak to my dear cousin. I had composed some very choice words for the occasion.

Henry Crawford, however, was feeling very reckless. He caressed my cheek and kissed me. I let him. It hardly seemed a time to quibble over trifles.

When I found myself back in Hell, I was prepared. I prayed immediately for warmth and light. The words had no effect, as if I was speaking in English. I tried variations but with equal failure. I squawked, I mewed, I bleated, but there was only cold and darkness. The angelic tongues had no power here.

In my early years, I was forced to learn some of the demonic tongues, how to read it if not how to pronounce it. It was considered an important tool to unraveling curses and defending against martial curses. And in the years since, I had acquired enough experience receiving those curses that I could recognize what I heard and probably speak a word or two myself.

I tried it now, howling the word for fire. A blinding column of white flame shot from my palm, scorching the walls. With great effort, I was able to control it, but I did but wish to maintain it. I would need to conserve my strength for Edmund, and heaven help us both when I found him.

The hallways were a tangled warren. I walked on through many twists and turnings until I caught some sign of habitation: the golden glow of Edmund’s lantern peeked from under a door and the sound of his voice was within.

I listened briefly. He was crooning to Mary Frances.

I pushed open the door to find my cousin standing over the crib, a knife dangling over my sleeping goddaughter.

"Stop," he grunted without even looking at me. As before, my feet refused another step.

"Away," I growled at him, sending him into the far wall.

He was slow in picking himself up off the floor, equal parts dazed and incredulous.

"You dare?" he raised his voice at me in English. "You dare speak against me here? Do you not understand what I can do?"

"I am no stranger to those words."

My warning amused him. "Oh yes, that's right. You hunt them. You have been doing it all your life. And how old are you now? Twenty, twenty-one years old, and already past your prime," he scoffed. "And how long have I been dead? Eternity is boundless, Fanny. As much practice as you have had, it matters not against me. I have been taught in a very august institution, and my education has been excruciatingly thorough."

Until this moment, I did not know if I would be able to hurt Edmund, if some part of myself would restrain me out of respect or affection. That perhaps I might deter him with a cheap threat that gained us time to seek answers in other quarters. But now I desperately wanted to hurt him because I feared him. His form was familiar but he was a monster nonetheless and I had done the mischief in provoking him.

I snarled at him but he countered it. He hissed back. I -- more fool I! -- fell victim to my training and tried to deflect it with a worthless blessing. Every last gasp of breath was roughly squeezed out of me.

Edmund walked over to me. "It's not that you were not special to me long ago, in your fashion, but that you are dear to Crawford now which makes you valuable to me." His ears picked up a sound in the hall. Crawford was coming.

"Hear me, Edmund," I rasped. "It is not Crawford whom you seek. He will not satisfy your craving for revenge."

"Your words are powerless here, Fanny," he snarled back. "You cannot stop me."

"Cousin, it was not Crawford who caused your death," I confessed. "It was me. I killed your master. I started the fire. I drove you mad. It was always me. Crawford stumbled in at the last moment and distracted you from your real target."

I had his attention. I could see the doubt and calculation in his eyes.

Crawford walked in on us like that, a frozen tableau. He exclaimed in surprise to find me there which infuriated Edmund.

"Away," he growled and Crawford was thrown into the hall with far more force than Edmund had felt at my command. I did not crane my neck to see if he got up again.

"No," Edmund recalled, "it was Crawford who killed me."

"Crawford?" I scoffed, making the idea sound ludicrous, as if only a gullible child could believe that. It was a dangerous game; Edmund might decide to kill both of us if I could not sufficiently absolve Crawford. "How can you imagine him to have held all that power over you? He was weak and ignorant then, and he has not bettered himself with time. He could not hurt anyone except at his master's command, and she was already dead because I had killed her.

"Do you not remember how it came to pass? Do you not remember how we four gathered in one of bedrooms of Mansfield Park just before the fire broke out? Your master told you to attack me, and you did. You were weak then too, weak as Crawford. I smashed your head into the wall so hard I did not know when you would awake. In the confusion, your master escaped me. I hunted her down and killed her; that was how the fire started. No doubt that you are mistaken about Crawford’s role in your death, you were too dazed to see what was happening at the time.

"You may see me as beneath you, but I was already responsible for the deaths of two others just like you before the fire." I told him about a maid who had awoken enraged and had fallen to her death on her way to kill me after I dispatched her master at the age of twelve. I told him of the woman who had arisen after I slew her master and three other demons only to have me kill her and enlist an angel in disposing of the body. Edmund had to see that he was just one more trophy, and I was not about to let Crawford get the credit.

Memories of Edmund’s final moments folded and reshaped themselves as my story redirected them. Briefly, I had the satisfaction of seeing my cousin question everything. Then his resolve returned.

"No, it was Crawford," his voice rang out. "I had beaten you already. I remember you lying there helpless. I remember my hands on your throat." He paused to reenact the moment for both of us. "It was you who were weak. You could never have harmed me. No," he said with absolute certainty, "it was Crawford. But now that you are here, I find I am not above killing you out of remembrance of things past."

My gamble had failed. I had only one option left and it filled me with a quaking fear.

"Then I demand an audience," I hissed. The words were barely audible with Edmund’s fingers wrapped around my neck. My pronunciation had to be indecipherable but the attempt was made and my intention was unmistakable.

Edmund choked me harder, just for an instant, to protest. Then the threat was gone.

Everything was gone, like discovering a scene was only a cleverly executed painting. The nursery went flat and if I tilted my head slightly, the illusion was exposed. The floor was no longer below me, Crawford was not behind me, and Edmund was no longer in front of me although some creature assuming his form still held me by my throat, more loosely than before but still unyielding.

"Priceless of Portsmouth," he sighed in exhilaration. "This is a coup, as well you may guess. I come ready to negotiate and I am prepared to be generous."

"You are not Edmund," I said needlessly.

"I may assume many forms in this domain," he told me and demonstrated a bit of his range. My brother William, then my sister Susan, flickered into shape before me. "I would show you your goddaughter but her hands are not big enough to hold you," he apologized. "But perhaps this is a happy substitute?" With that he was Crawford.

I made no protest.

"Tell me what you want, Priceless," he coaxed. "You know what I want. Be flattered that I want it very badly. What shall this cost me? I am all anticipation to hear your conditions."

"The souls of Edmund Bertram, Henry Crawford, and Mary Frances Grant."

"Three for one?" He was shocked, affronted. "I was prepared to be liberal but you would have me be profligate! For shame! No. It cannot be done. It is beyond my power."

"Then I will speak with another," I warned him. My feet danced briefly over a void as he measured my words.

"Do not get ahead of yourself, dear girl. I am sure we can come to some compromise. Surely two for one is more than fair."

"I am worth three. You will set Edmund Bertram free," I said with greater confidence. "He has amused you long enough. He has served his purpose."

"Commendable, but what will become of him if we cast him out? Where else could he go? Be charitable, Priceless, and let him stay. I will let him keep you company."

"Free him," I insisted. Edmund was dead and nothing I could do would bring him back to life but I could not leave him here. He might wander Purgatory for an eon but the sum of all his struggles there would be insignificant compared to what he would endure in even one more moment here.

"Very well," he smiled. "A fair exchange."

"No, we are not done until you agree to the other two. They must be safe." Rescuing Edmund without ensuring that Crawford and Mary Frances were likewise protected was too dangerous.

His grip tightened briefly and the feeling of nothingness momentarily overwhelmed me. I shut my eyes as a sense of vertigo crashed over me. I was filled with loss, emptied by it.

"Let him stay," came a voice in my ear. "You deserve not to be alone in what follows. Let him stay here with you."

What have I done? A prayer formed on my lips, blessing Crawford and Mary Frances each in turn to keep them safe.

A hand caressed my cheek, so similar to how Crawford had touched me only hours ago that I stuttered to a stop.

"Let him stay," the voice repeated. "Who says you will not be happy together?" At that prompt, images I had never envisioned came to mind. It was too costly to dwell on them but I couldn't dispel them.

"Leave him alone," I growled at last. "No force from Hell may touch him." I hoped for an end to this temptation. Then all hope left me. I felt my memories reshaping and distorting themselves along darker lines or disappearing completely.

I fell. I fell forever.

Life in the shadow of Mansfield Park may be cold at times but when I think of what my life would have been like had I stayed in Portsmouth, I quake with gratitude.

My father had, from a very early time, confirmed every fear that my mother's family had of their marriage. He was injured and put on half pay, and my mother never found a way to raise their growing family on the reduced income. They both turned to vice to numb their sense of failure -- he to drink, she to idleness -- and we all suffered the more for it.

What children who could escape left at the first opportunity. I went to Mansfield. Many of my brothers went to sea. One of my sisters, Susan, married at a young age; she chose poorly a man cut from the same cloth as our father and regretted her choice until she died in childbirth. Other siblings died at even younger ages from illness or more obvious neglect. The Navy, originally so kind in taking my brothers from their miserable home, proved itself harsh when half of them died at sea or after being tried for desertion. The remaining resent me for my successful escape and have broken all contact with me out of bitterness.

My happiness, however, has been fleeting. Being placed in Mansfield Park has given me numerous advantages and I would be wrong to ignore them. I am, after all, Mrs. Edmund Bertram, and that is the fulfillment of my childhood wish but the reality is much different from the girlish fantasy. My indifferent health, which has plagued me my entire life, has sunk under the pressures of tending to the parish, taking with it what little beauty my vanity allowed me to claim. The parishioners treat me with a mixture of need and contempt, begging me to aid them when they fall ill and deriding me when they are well again. I know I should refuse their petitions but I cannot. After I refused Henry Crawford and earned such enmity from the Bertrams for setting off the chain of disaster that followed, I find I have not the stomach to say no to anyone else ever again.

Indeed, had I known I would be in some way responsible for the ignominy and death of dear Mrs. Rushworth, the ostracism and banishment of poor Mrs. Yates, the wrecking of Tom's health, and the breaking of Edmund's heart, how could I have allowed that, no matter what it would have cost me personally?

Although he never says it, dear Edmund’s opinion of me has also dropped. He had originally thought so highly of my steadfastness, but he has come to see a little malleability as more desired. Of course, now I am too yielding, too pliant. I have no will of my own except to avoid confrontation and abuse.

Edmund has grown weary of my company. Between parish business and the needs of his family, he rarely sees me. I do not protest; it would be ungrateful to make demands of him, and cruel if those demands are against his inclination.

Often he is called to Mansfield Park before noon. I give him my best wishes to convey to its inhabitants. Remembering me in this way is much less offensive to them than if I were to come too. He stays there all day into the next morning and the servants make it a holiday for themselves, which is just as well for neither they nor I believe that I am worth serving.

For all its failings, it is still a grander life than I have any cause to aspire to. I am married to a respectable man who, although he cannot love me, at least understands what it is to love another. And I do love him completely. I consider myself bound to him and to this place -- body, mind, heart, and soul -- and I could never leave. Never ever. Amen.


Everingham Gothic, 4

NN SOctober 31, 2016 10:34AM

Re: Everingham Gothic, 4

Lucy J.November 02, 2016 04:03AM

Re: Everingham Gothic, 4

Shannon KOctober 31, 2016 01:56PM

Re: Everingham Gothic, 4

Shannon KOctober 31, 2016 03:29PM

Re: Everingham Gothic, 4

NN SOctober 31, 2016 03:49PM

EvGot Notes

NN SOctober 31, 2016 10:39AM

Re: EvGot Notes

NickiOctober 31, 2016 03:13PM

Re: EvGot Notes

Suzanne OOctober 31, 2016 12:44PM

Re: EvGot Notes

NN SNovember 01, 2016 10:26AM

Re: EvGot Notes

Maria VOctober 31, 2016 11:48AM


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