Society, love, and horror marks one woman's Victorian life.
First Chapter to my free online novel.
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The funeral was brief and to the point. My uncle did not like long ceremonies. My Aunt Millie complained often about his impatience and thrift.
“My wedding was fifteen minutes long! I swear: he cannot help himself.”
My uncle favored penny pinching to all other forms of pastime and his marriage was no exception. The pastor was half price. Her dress was his mother’s. Even the cake had been ordered by someone else, my Uncle William Stanwood paid a third of the price when the other couple’s nuptials were canceled.
“Why pour money into a pit?” My uncle used to say. “Get it done. Quick!”
A part of me always thought my uncle had something to do with the breakup. The night before the bride discovered her lover’s cheating heart. I wondered if the ploy was to buy their cake.
“A pound saved is a pound earned.” I heard him say in my reminiscence.
I smiled. Awkward to say the least, I stood amid sprinkles and mud at Millie’s graveside service. Even in the summer, English weather was temperamental. My boots had seen better days and I felt the dampness seep inside.
A few of us had gathered with the minister: my uncle, my aunt’s four friends, a man I thought I recognized, two nieces, and myself. Not a large party loomed in the afternoon gloom, but enough to warrant tears and sorrow.
After we said our good-byes, my uncle came to my side. “Time to go, lassie.” He played Irish, even spoke some Gaelic, but he was English through and through. He hated the Irish. As a whole, they could drink more than he and that fact was a sore spot.
His hand laid perched on my shoulder which made me uncomfortable. “I’ll walk. I need the time alone.”
“I’ll send the driver round for you.”
“It won’t be necessary. The clouds are letting up and the house is a few blocks away. I’ll be fine, Uncle William.” I half smiled and strode away.
The stout little man was no taller then I. I stood at least five foot three. Dark hair and eyes were accentuated by his pale skin and rosy cheeks. His three suits looked all the same: black coat and pants, white shirt. Shined shoes kept the ensemble organized.
His ties were his only luxury. He owned five. Silk and satin red, yellow, green, blue, and black. Today, of course, he wore the darkest one.
Their governess already had my nieces tucked away in the carriage. Satin black outfits made their sad eyes appear sadder. The horses nickered in the distance.
My uncle rushed to leave the cemetery. I could not blame him. I wanted away too.
I strode from the crowded crosses. I dashed across the cobblestone street. Sorrow faded into anticipation as I wanted to see if the park still existed.
As I trudged amongst the stone walls and walks, my damp skirt hit my legs. The cool wind of the departing storm made a chilly time more frosty. I hoped my grey dress with little decoration or personality lent itself well to my aunt’s farewell. For the fabric left me a prisoner of the weather.
“Upper class poor.” My father joked as I remembered a warm supper and a Christmas goose. “We act upper class, but we don’t have two Shillings to rub together. Makes for the perfect family.”
Droplets tapped my head. I left the graveyard without a parasol. My bonnet was worn, so I did not bring the tattered hat.
Anything to generate heat I tried. I held myself. I walked faster. Nothing seemed to matter. In the chill, even my coat was not enough.
With a scan of the area, I saw a group of familiar trees. I was closer to my goal. Warmth from inside my heart triggered a rise in body temperature. I rushed my legs more.
A childhood dream I wanted confirmation of- I needed to know if my memories were real. Gossamer Square, the homemade copper plaque said against the cold, wet stone pillar. Buildings and residences had grown up around the garden, but the flower patch had survived.
I stumbled forward. My tears of pain had changed to joy. I walked along the masonry and breathed in the aroma of roses, daisies, and daffodils. Unusual flower combinations, but the climate could sustain some of the more delicate species. A theory put to the test.
Cobblestone stretched into a pinwheel pattern. Centered was a dirt patch with wild grasses and vases of delicate flower arrangements. Five roads sprung from the circular walk. Each grew to touch the sidewalk that bordered the entire square.
Trees adorned the perimeter. A piece of shade for the summer and warmth for the winter, the green-leafed stalks reached twenty feet into the sky. In between the barked centurions, shrubs lined the thoroughfare. From the street, the ornamentals that swayed in the breeze remained hidden behind a set of green.
The farther I went the further I fell in love with the living canvas. The garden was beautiful. Colors varied in every springtime hue. The plants were showcased as glorious monuments. I was in awe.
“Breathtaking, aren’t they?” A man’s voice snapped me out of my exaltation.
I turned. The man from the funeral stood feet away. He bowed. I tipped my head. “I saw you at my aunt’s funeral. Thank you for coming, but I don’t remember . . . I’m sorry.”
“You don’t recognize me, Emily?” His blue eyes flashed a tease.
He wore the customary regalia: a black suit, shoes, and belt. His shirt was grey. The fabric that draped him was drab, but tailored.
Though his apparel seemed depressed by the monotone color scheme, he was not. His demeanor appeared light and gracious. Dimples punctuated his smile. Sandy hair sparkled in a beam of passing daylight.
Familiarity of his being did not open me to a vivid recollection. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“It’s been six years. I didn’t think I’ve changed that much.”
“Maybe I have.” I raised my brow.
“Miss Emily Carrington, I am Daniel Patrick Goodrich. I am pleased to make your re-acquaintance.”
I smiled. “Danny?” I threw my arms around his neck. He smelled of rose petals and spice. “I can’t believe it. You’re all grown up.”
He embraced me with the same vigor. “Twenty-one last month.”
“Twenty-two for me.” I released him from my clutches, but he remained close. “My father complains I’m an old maid. Never to get married.”
“You look nothing such. Are you here for the funeral? Or, are you staying for a while?”
“I was named in her last wishes. So, I don’t know what my uncle has in store for me. I could be here for a month or another day. His whims are indulged since he sends money to my parents.”
“Then come to dinner. Tomorrow night.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on.” He clasped my hands in his gloved fingers. “Two childhood friends. What’s the harm?”
“You’re parents won’t mind?”
“They died four winters ago.”
“I’m so sorry. No one told me.”
“You have a lot to learn while you’re in town. New faces. More society balls and parties. Not to mention the warehouses, wharfs. London is a bigger place then you’d remember.”
“I got a taste at the train station.” I touched his arm. I still felt horrible. “I am truly sorry.”
He placed his other hand over mine. “Forgotten misery, Emily. I was left everything. The house, my father’s business-”
“Every young woman at your door . . .”
“That too. But we must have dinner. You must meet my new friends coming in from Spain: the de la Renzas. If you stay too long, I’ll have you at one of my parties.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t come with many accessories. My aunt’s death was unexpected.”
“I’ll take care of everything. You did save me from a toad, when I was ten, if I remember.”
I giggled. “A large, green toad.”
He offered me his arm. I took the courtesy. “For now, I’ll escort you back to your uncle’s.”
I looked up to see a horse and carriage nearby. “I prefer to walk.”
“Then I’ll walk with you. It’s a few blocks south of here.” He signaled to his driver not to follow, then he guided me to an adjacent street. “Has he been pleasant?”
“Somewhat. Understandably, the girls are a mess but the governess keeps them manageable. I hardly get to see them. Luckily no fits of rage on his part, but the tension is high.”
“I have an extra room if the arrangement becomes unlivable.”
“And tarnish my perfect reputation?”
We turned a corner with a chuckle. My happiness ended when I saw my uncle’s house in the distance. In front, the carriage stood still and ominous.
I slowed our pace. “I shouldn’t be in town long.”
Minutes passed and Daniel had me at my doorstep. “However long.”
The door swung open with a quick and purposeful determination. My uncle stood with a full cognac glass. His jacket and tie were removed. “Mister Goodrich, it was nice to see you at the funeral and to walk my niece home.”
“I’ve invited her to dine tomorrow night with some friends of mine. Catch up on these last few years.” Daniel stared at William. He did not waiver. William did. “Expect my carriage at seven.”
“I will.” My uncle rushed me inside the foyer.
“Good, then I will see you tomorrow, Miss Carrington.” Daniel bowed. “Good evening, sir.”
My uncle shut the door. “What are you doing with him?”
“It’s Danny.” I separated myself from my uncle’s grasp. “The boy I grew up with. What’s your dislike of him?”
“It would not be nice to discuss in polite company, especially on a day like this. Let’s just say: he’s his father’s son.”
A servant entered the room. “Sir, dinner will be served in an hour.”
“Good, thank you.”
“I’m tired from today’s activities. I’m going to lie down.” Up the stairs I lumbered. Every step felt heavier then the one before it.
I went into a small room down the hall from the girls’ rooms. A bed, nightstand, and writing desk were the only miniature items the space would allow. No wardrobe could fit.
Good thing, I did not have enough clothes to warrant a wardrobe. My things were neat and compact. A dress or two and necessities were folded in my petite suitcase. When I sat on the bed, I kicked the handle.
With a reach, I closed the curtains. The diffused light played with my imagination. Shadows darkened as the sun set between misty clouds.
I had not realized the extent of my fatigue. I gathered a throw around my chest. Soon the cozy warmth took me. When I woke, breakfast smelled in the lower quarters. I changed into my other dress and set the one I fell asleep in to air.
At the family dinning table, I nibbled at breakfast. Eggs and toast, I slurped alone. My uncle had business. Upstairs in the attic, the girls learned from their governess.
His home was quaint and bare of some essentials. Curtains hung to keep the breeze out, but none were fanciful. Most walls were empty except for a few family pictures or crafts the girls had made. The maroon rugs kept the floors warm but had no pattern.
The furniture too appeared plain. Dark wood with little decoration or detail lined the rooms. Solid yellow colors upholstered the seating with hues that contrasted the floors. Throw pillows and blankets that tied the scheme together were sprinkled about the home.
As I gazed at the dismal interior design, the sun shone through the dining room window. I was amazed how bright the light was. The train ride, funeral, and subsequent evening had been overcast. I was glad to have one day free from the depressing weather. I chance to see the real London.
“May I take that?” A servant asked.
I saw my plate near empty of food. “Yes, thank you, it was delicious.”
Truth be told, I had not eaten so well in a long time. My father’s business had retracted with the economy. Why ship through a horse and carriage when steam and coal were faster?
“I’m going for a walk.” I told the servant.
I stepped into the warmth of the day. What I wanted to do was sneak back to the garden. The blossoms touched by dew and daylight danced in my psyche. I walked with such fervor and anticipation of the heart that I thought I would bust.
The lighter color of my cream dress encouraged my good disposition. No ribbons or frills lavished this one either, but a change from gray and black of yesterday was appreciated. Nothing said death like dreary clothes.
Gossamer Square was more spectacular then I had envisioned. Every color rose imaginable bloomed. Purple and orange flowers I have never seen before swayed in the light breeze. Blue bonnets smiled. The immaculate attention to detail amazed and mystified me.
Who was the garden’s caretaker? I would venture to know. I knew the work and time. I appreciated every second with all my senses.
After hours of kneeling, bending, and stooping, my muscles ached. My time in the garden was done. I could do no more loving of the atmosphere.
With a heavy sigh, I stepped across the street. I followed the tall stone buildings home. Huge monuments of the time, the dwelling felt heavy against the aging sky.
Then I realized the time. The sun’s late afternoon angle lengthened. I had just enough time. I had a dinner to attend with Daniel and his guests.
I snuck into the manor and my room. On my bed, three dresses, two coats, sashes, gloves and shoes laid. A note from my dead aunt that gave me some of her personal belongings. Those items her daughters did not want or could not wear. Plus she left something extra to be given to me at a later time.
As I came from upstairs after I made myself presentable, the carriage pulled up. Uncle William let the living room brown curtain plunge with the removal of his hand. He appeared nervous. Unusual emotion for a man who controlled people, for a moment I was speechless.
“What is it, Uncle William?” I threw my new blue sash over my shoulders.
“I don’t like you going without a chaperon.”
“I am perfectly capable. It’s not like we’ll be alone. He has other company. Come now, you’re being too much for something so innocent.”
“Be careful. London is a big city. Full of grays. There’s no black and white here.” He went to his bar and poured himself another drink.
“I will, if you’ll rest. You’re cranky.” I pulled on my matching cerulean gloves. “I have the key you gave me when I first arrived. If I come in late, I won’t disturb anyone.”
“Then don’t come in late.”
I smiled. My uncle was not himself. He cared what happened to me. His usual scheme was apathetic. Perhaps, death had opened his eyes.
He did not look well either. His pallor had increased over night. He smelled of cigars and alcohol. I hoped his behavior was temporary for the girls’ sakes.
Still I was glad to see he was human. My aunt’s death had affected him. Sometimes I would visit and he did not interact with the family at all. He was a mystery to me.
As expected, the carriage came. I departed the house. With my absence, perhaps Uncle William would come to terms with his new reality: widower.
When I walked into the Goodrich Manor, Daniel stood waiting for me by the fire. I placed my outer garments with the servant then made my way to Daniel. After a light hug, he kissed my cheek.
“I’m so glad you came.”
I looked around the empty space. “Where are your guests?”
“Cancelled? Well then, I must be going.”
“Nonsense, Em. We can have dinner.”
“And, if my uncle finds out? My perfect reputation will be imperfect.”
“Then he doesn’t need to know.” He gestured for us to enter another room. “The dining room is this way.”
The weight of impropriety felt less substantial then the irresistible need to see my childhood friend. I followed Daniel into the dinning area. Guilt did creep into my psyche, but I knew from our longstanding camaraderie that he and I could keep secrets.
We sat at one end of a sophisticated, mahogany table. I remembered the facets of the furniture and decoration from our playtime. As children, we embarked on many adventures in his household. Our imaginations gave house managers like my mother time to do their jobs, but also time for us to find trouble.
“How is your family?” He asked while sipping split pea soup from his spoon.
I swallowed my taste. “Fine. Father is trying to incorporate more into his business since the economy isn’t doing well. Mother makes ends meet with her quilt work. I do chores and drive them crazy with my stark refusal to marry the older gentleman down the street.”
“Oh, what is wrong with this older gentleman?”
“He’s been widowed four times and he’s nearly as old as my father. I don’t like the odds, or the age difference.”
Another course was served to us. The china sparkled. The silver dazzled in the candle light. The meat and vegetables steamed their scent to me.
The oddity was the servant’s behavior. Off-put, even scared he seemed. I was not sure if a correction had been made before my appearance.
“You’re not a gambler?” Daniel grinned.
“Never have been.”
“Very true .”
“Plus, I’m waiting for someone who I have something in common with to romance me.”
“Ah, that’s it! You want romance. You’ve changed.” He drank some wine while I laughed. “You once told me you would never marry. You didn’t want the inconvenience of marriage.”
“At fifteen, it would’ve been inconvenient.”
He smiled. “How about now?”
“Undecided? Is there anyone that can change your mind?”
“If there were, my father would be grateful. I think he’s ready to put me up for public auction if I don’t settle soon. I’m sure he would conspire with my uncle to marry me off if I were to stay in London.”
Daniel chuckled and I laughed too. It was nice be home with someone who understood me. I could tell Daniel enjoyed the reciprocal advantage. A woman who did not want to marry him for his money suited him well too.
As we ate our next course, I looked at the room. Nothing had changed. The matching china closet and buffet were glossed with wax. Two sitting chairs in printed tapestry sat in the corner. Walls of amber, sconces of gold, and mother of pearl insets brought the room together.
Daniel had not added nor subtracted from his parent’s home. Though I did discern flowers in the corner, roses sprung from a vase. Different colors illuminated the dark furniture. Flowers I recognized from Gossamer Square.
“The roses are lovely.” I pointed to the ceramic container. From where I sat, I smelt the floral scent above the wood and fabric.
“I thought you would appreciate them, Emily. I wasn’t sure what your favorite color would be since they are all so beautiful.”
The man servant reentered. “Dessert, sir?”
“Please, Danny. I would love dessert.”
He appeared overjoyed. “Dessert, Mister Ocklay. Thank you.”
The plates were changed out. I sat in front of a creamy concoction with raspberries and blueberries. I took a taste. “Sinful.”
“He is quite good at his job.”
“I can taste. Dinner was beyond heavenly.”
“Then I should have you over more often. He needs the confidence boost. I’m afraid he burned a drape with a candle last night and has been hard to live with ever since.”
I giggled and nodded. “I thought you two had a tiff before I arrived.”
“No, nothing so vulgar. He is a perfectionist. And it looks like your uncle starves you.”
“A funeral quells one’s appetite. I’ve bounced back since then.” I was not going to burden him with personal poverty. His hospitality had been so great. Why should I damper his goodwill?
Daniel and I finished our desserts in silence. He stared at me. I tried to ignore the attention. Once finished, I had no other excuse but to interact with his adoration.
“Have you no lady friends?” I drank some wine. “I hope you are not alone in the house every night.”
“I have interests that keep me entertained. For instance, I’m hosting a party in a fortnight. I’ll introduce you to my admirers then.”
I wiped my mouth with a napkin. “I doubt I will be here.”
“Come now, I’ll send you and your uncle invitations, then he’ll have to keep you over.”
“But you seem worried.”
“I could never hide my true feelings from you. Not even when we were children.”
“No, you never could. So what is bothering you?”
“I have a warehouse near the wharf. A body was found in the river. Dreadful. An older man, but still the police have said it’s murder.”
“How could they tell?”
“The knife was still stuck in his chest.”
“London is not a safe place. We’ve had scoundrels as far north as here.”
“I’ll be sure to watch myself.”
“Please do. I would hate to write a letter to your parents about anything happening to you.”
“Believe me, it might relieve my father. The burden I’m becoming.”
“Nonsense. You could never be a burden. Trouble but never a burden.”
I tapped his hand with mine as I smiled. My way of reproaching him, yet he was endeared. He took my hand in his.
My grasp tightened. I felt comfortable. Daniel had a soothing affect on my nerves. “I should go. Uncle didn’t want me out too late.”
“I concur. I will ride with you.”
The ride was not long. Daniel’s home was three blocks north and two blocks west of Gossamer Square. My uncle’s home sat on the boundary of the west end manors that separated upper with the working class. His residence sat two blocks south and three blocks east of my garden.
As we drove southbound, a horrid scream came from the shadows. A man darted in front of our carriage. I saw nothing but his dark clothes in the driver’s lamplight.
Afterward we tussled. The driver did not have time to stop. The carriage ran over the man’s body. We swayed back and forth in a violent torrent. With a heave, the carriage halted.
My heart leapt from my chest. I could not believe the horridness of the unfolding events. I felt pain and misery for the man who lay mangled beneath us.
Daniel must have read my face. “Are you hurt?”
I shook my head. Even in my shock, I felt happy to be upright. “I’m fine.”
“Stay here.” Daniel gestured as he exited.
Truth was, I was not fine. Although with a moment alone to collect myself, I would recover before Daniel returned. I held my chest and concentrated on my breaths.
From the muffled exterior, I heard Daniel and his driver speak. “Mister McLaughlin-”
A hysterical woman ran onto the scene. “My husband! My husband! You killed my husband.”
“My driver could not stop, madam.” I heard Daniel say amid the woman’s sobs. “I wish your husband had waited off to the side and flagged us down. We would’ve stopped.”
“No, you wouldn’t’ve. All you rich are just the same.”
Not being able to see the players upset me more than seeing the dead body would have. The side window was obscured by the driver’s back. I felt out of sorts.
Soon another man’s voice was introduced. “I’m Sergeant Weller. What seems to be the problem, sir?”
“My companion and I were on our way home when this poor gentlemen got too close. He was pulled under the wheels.” Daniel’s voice never showed signs of stress. If anything, he was compassionate.
“He killed my husband.” The woman’s voice and cries sounded louder.
“And your companion?” The officer’s boots clicked.
“Still inside. I didn’t want her to see this.”
“Understandable but I will need to speak with her.”
“Perhaps if we go to the other side.”
I heard men step around the carriage and to my left. The door opened. Daniel waved. I left with the help of his hand.
“You are?” The Sergeant looked at me from head to toe.
“Emily Carrington. I’m staying with my uncle, William Stanwood.”
“Yes, I heard about your aunt. I’m very sorry. Have you laid her to rest?”
“The funeral was yesterday afternoon, thank you. Seems I cannot get away from death since I arrived in London.”
“What can you tell me?”
“I heard a man yelling. A flash of dark clothing, then the bump of the carriage. I thought we were going to be knocked over.”
“You’re very lucky you weren’t, miss.”
Daniel had been quiet up till then. “May I walk her the rest of the way home?”
“Of course. If there is anything else, I will contact you at your uncle’s home.”
“Thank you.” Daniel and I said together.
As he escorted me home, we had to cross the street. I glanced over my shoulder. I saw the man underneath the carriage, the woman on her knees crying, and the driver holding onto whatever nerve he had in reserve. The Sergeant motioned for the driver to move the carriage. His investigation was not finished.
“Don’t look.” Daniel rubbed my shoulder.
I had not noticed he kept one arm around me. I was stunned but not afraid. From the look on Daniel’s face, he was troubled.
“Accidents happen.” I tried to soothe him.
“Around me lately, often.”
“What does that mean?”
Daniel shrugged. “It’s nothing to worry about as long as you’re safe, Emily.”
“I am. And you have a party to coordinate.”
“Yes I do.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Really. Send the invitation. After yesterday and tonight, I’m up for a little levity. Spice of life. I want to enjoy what I can before a carriage finds me in the street.”
“I hope that never happens to you, Emily.”
“It won’t. I’m too quick on my feet.” The lines on his face did not decrease. I worried. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You’re doing it.”
“How about the widow?”
“I’ll make sure she is well compensated. It’s only right.”
“And your driver?”
“I’ll give him a few days off with pay. He won’t be any used to me otherwise.”
I took out my keys from my coat pocket. With a few more steps, we stood at my uncle’s front door. It was later than I anticipated thanks to the accident.
I unlocked and opened the door. “Thank you for the wonderful dinner.”
“Anytime, Emily. In the future, I’ll keep the situations in better care.” He kissed my hand.
I smiled at the gesture. Daniel had become a civilized man. “Good night, Danny.”
I entered my uncle’s domicile. I closed and locked the door. With caution not to wake the household, I crept upstairs.
I got into bed after a quick change. My door opened. My uncle stood with a candle in hand. I looked up at him from my pillows. “Yes?”
“Just checking to see if you’d made it home.”
“I did, thank you.” I blew out my candle. “I hope you will allow me to stay. Daniel is throwing a party in two weeks.”
“I see he’s charmed you.”
“Invited me. . . and you, uncle.”
“If everything went well, what was the commotion I heard? Several passers by were noisy.”
“A man ran in front of our carriage. I’m afraid he’s dead.” I felt a lump in my throat rise.
“And this does not upset you?”
“I didn’t actually see the body. Felt it though. Daniel kept me well insulated from the experience. You should thank him for my relative calm.”
My uncle shifted his stance. I could not tell from the candlelight what my uncle’s reaction had been. “Good night, Emily.”
“Good night, Uncle William.” He shut my door. I heard his footsteps go down to his quarters where he closed his own bedroom door.
The last few days had been strange. I could not help but to wonder why that man threw himself in harm’s way? Why the murder by the wharf concerned Daniel? Why Daniel had not married? Why my uncle seemed displeased with my being with Daniel?
I had many questions. No answers availed themselves to me. Maybe two weeks or a month in London would do me well. I wanted to discover the mystery that surrounded the residents of Gossamer Square.