*Hi there, strangers! Yep, I'm back--for May, at least. Summer classes start in June, but I will try to keep up with at least one rp (guess which is at the top of my list?) even then. I've missed you all so much!
In case anyone forgot (and I wouldn't blame you), Vee Davies spent the winter in London on a temporary release from St. C's to care for her dying father. He passed away in April, but since Vee had quite a bit of business to tend to, as seen below, she's only now making it back. The story jumps around a lot, but there was quite a bit of ground to cover. Read on, dear friends!
The envelope trembled slightly in my father's solicitor's hands. Mr. Pebblebrook was a small, grey old man who coughed weakly before each sentence, as if to apologize in advance for what he was about to say. In this case, it was true. I sat absolutely still in the sqeaking leather chair, waiting for him to pronounce my fate.
Pebblebrook coughed. "If I may speak plainly, Miss Davies, your father was a man of considerable means. His medical practise was large, and many of his clients were comfortably well off. However, I am not certain how he chose to divide his wealth in his final testament--" Pebblebrook turned the envelope over in his palsied hands "--and I think it would be wise to prepare yourself, lest your father's will contain some news that upsets your, er, delicate sensibilities." He eyed me apprehensively.
So, he had heard about my stay at St. Celia's. I was not surprised. In the last year, I had become the worst-kept secret in London.
In the early days after my release from St. C's, my father tried to take us to an expensive restaurant. After making no less than three excuses as to why he could not seat us, the maitre'd marched us through the main salon past half a dozen empty tables to a far, darkened corner, where it took us half an hour to be served. The whispers of the people we passed followed us like snakes: I had spent the summer locked in a padded cell. I had killed a woman. I had tried to kill myself. I had driven an asylum doctor mad. I myself was as mad as my mother, wasn't it a shame, that's what came of having foriegn blood in the family, and on and on.
We did not go to a restaurant again. But in the early days, when he could still walk unaided, my father accompanied me on outings about London: first to the parks on fine autumn days, and then, when winter drew its shroud of fog about the city like a cloak, to less-taxing indoor galleries and museums. He always hung behind me, as if he were a paid chaperone instead of a parent trying to understand the child he'd ignored for eighteen years. Several times, I looked over my shoulder to find him with his mouth open, as if about to say something that never found its way to his lips.
We saw the statues of Greek heroes, Blake's depictions of Heaven and Hell, even the new, shocking work of Rosetti and his friends, and still my father did not say what it was he was trying to. We passed the time in silence, save for one memorable trip to the National Gallery where we saw a collection of DaVinci's sketches of the male nude and I burst into hysterical laughter. My father had to escort me from the premises, muttering "something intellegible about magnifying glasses."
At night, I would stay up for hours in my childhood room, writing and pacing and listening to my father's hacking coughs from down the hall. They grew worse as the weather cooled, until I could barely stand it. One night in January, I found a vial of morphine hidden in my jewelry box on the mantlepiece, right where I had left it.
I held it up to the faint light which was just beginning to peep through the french doors leading onto my little balcony. I spent some time looking at it, the clear liquid inside catching the colors of the dawn and imagining the plunge of its warmth inside my veins, the wonderful forgetting.
Then I opened the balcony doors and threw it into the garden below. The chime it made as it broke on the flagstones sounded like the first warm-up notes of a new symphony.
Winter faded into the early spring, and as the warm weather returned, my father seemed to get more life in him. One of his young resident students, who visited to pay his respects, warned me not to trust that appearance.
"It's a common phenomenon," he said, as he stood in the kitchen with the cup of tea I had offered him before he left. "In long illnesses like this, the patient often experiences a surge of vigor just before...well." He sat his barely-touched tea down on the table and checked his uniform for invisible splotches of Earl Grey, as a means of hiding his blush.
"Before he dies," I said. "I have gotten used to saying it. You might want to do the same, sir, given where you're going."
He nodded. The young man was graduating soon, and planned to ship off to Afghanistan the moment he had his diploma in hand. He had come to give my father what he termed the good news--though how a nice lad who was scarcely older than myself being thrown into a viper's nest of political intrigue and bullet-fire was to be a good thing, I did not know.
"You are quite right, of course, Miss Davies" he said, blushing ever more furiously behind his fair moustache, which was still coming in and looked not unlike Seymour Granger's. "You are a very sensible young woman."
"Most people would not say so, Doctor--I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name." Though I should have been embarassed at this social faux pas, I grinned; I was delighted to have met an acquaintance, however fleeting, who did not think me a complete lunatic.
"Most people do not know what they are talking about," he said, fetching up his new military cap as I showed him to the door. "And I am not a doctor yet, miss. For another three weeks, the name is just John Watson."
The soon-to-be-doctor's advice proved true; after his initial spurt of health, my father sank even deeper into the throes of his illness.
One morning in early April--one of those warm springlike days sent to trick one into walking outside, only to pelt one with a blast of freezing rain--the bell in my room which some clever servant had connected to a pulley in his rang. My father was calling me.
I had seen a great deal of sickness at St. Celia's, but none with symptoms so difficult to look at as those which had claimed my father. He was so thin I felt that a gust of wind might blow him out of bed. His veins stuck out like ropes beneath his yellowed skin. And still, he wanted to work. I arrived to find him clasping a pen in his bony fingers, and a lap desk, which threatened to topple over with every cough, was placed over his knees. "Virginia, it is time. What do you expect from my will?"
I was quite surprised to be asked so boldly. I had been giving this some thought, though I never expected to tell him. "I expect very little," I blurted. "You know very well that my style of living is not extravagant. All I need is enough to keep me from becoming a pauper for a few years, while I become established and learn to make my own way. I am not certain how. All I know is that I want to make a place that is what asylums ought to be--a place for people to be safe. Especially children. Especially girls."
His breathing grew more labored. "Why...would you want to do that?"
"Because no one believes I can."
"You are...your mother's daughter," he said, and let out a huff of laughter that turned into a cough. I hurried to his bedside and helped him pour a small amount of the tincture he had prescribed himself down his throat. I did it all with my teeth clenched. Even now, so close to the end, he could talk of nothing but her.
That's when it happened.
"But..." said my father, as he struggled for breath, "you are not her."
My jaw unclenched. Standing over the bed, I put a hand on his coverlet to steady myself as he continued.
"I am ashamed...that I never recognized your differences. I treated you as her nursemaid or her pet...her property. And when she was gone...I had no use for you."
"It's all right," I said, though my voice came out in a whisper that belied my words. I was shocked by the vehemence of his response.
"No!" He thundered, and sat up in bed. For a moment, all signs of sickness rolled away, and I saw a flash of the young, intense, difficult doctor that my mother had fallen in love with, however briefly. Then it was gone. Father sank back into his pillows, looking twice as exhausted as before.
"No," he repeated faintly. "It is not all right. I denied you a proper childhood...ignored you...all because I could not stand up to her. Virginia, I am sorry."
It was not the dramatic apology I had always pictured. He did not fall down on his knees and curse the day he was born. He was not even crying. He did not need to--in his clouded eyes, there was a depth of earnestness and sorrow I had never dreamed him capable of, and for once in my life, it was focused on me.
"I forgive you," I said. And he may not have been crying, but blast it all, I was. He was rather too fragile for hugging at that point, but he covered my hand with his own, and that was enough.
When we were both suitably recovered, he took up his pen again.
"Let me...ask it a different way, Virginia...what do you want from life?"
My answer was immediate. "To go home."
For the first time, he truly understood me. "Anything...else?"
The smallest of smiles broke through my tearstained countenance. "Well, there is one thing..."
That was the last day he was lucid. Late that night, the fever took hold of him. He began to speak to people who were not there, and to call me by my mother's name, though that did not hurt as much as I had thought. I said kind things to him as her; things which he may not always have deserved to hear, but needed to nonetheless. After three days of this, he passed away early in the morning. I was astonished by how much I had cried.
The funeral had a modest attendance, mostly other doctors who shook my hand or patted my shoulder and avoided my eyes. The morning after the ceremony, I had my father's coach drive me the seven blocks to his solicitor's office. It was a rather too short a trip to warrant such transportation, but I had little doubt that the coach, along with the coachman and the house itself, would be reappropriated by my father's will to friends or some charitable organizations, so I wanted to enjoy it just this once.
In the office, Mr. Pebblebrook slit open the envelope with trembling fingers. He unfolded the single sheet contained within, coughed, and began to read: "Being the last will and testament of Mr. Carson Andrew Davies, M.D. It is my dying wish that..."
The solicitor's voice trailed off, though his thin lips were still moving. His bushy eyebrows shot up so far and fast that it looked as though they had decided to give his receding hairline chase. He sat that way for so long that I began to fear something was seriously wrong with him.
"Mr. Pebblebrook? Are you quite well?" I half-rose from my seat.
The old man's lips moved again, like a fish trying to get air, before he whimpered, "All of it."
"All of what?" I asked, still frozen with my bottom above the chair.
"All of his money. He's left you all of it."
I sat down again. Hard. "All of it, all of it?"
"He had no other close relatives," said Pebblebrook, whose eyebrows were slowly lowering themselves back to a decorous level. "He has willed a few pounds to various charities, and a small sum to Cambridge's medical school, his alma mater. As for the rest of it..."
He coughed once more, and read aloud, "The remainder of my fortune, along with all my worldly possessions including my London home, I leave to my daughter Virginia, with the understanding that she will use it to make the world a better place for those young people, like her, who have been neglected. I request that my London address be used as a center of operations in this venture, unless a more suitable place is found."
Pebblebrook's head came up for a moment, as if to size me up. "You may not like this next part, Miss Davies."
"Oh?" I asked. My heart sank as the wild notion entered my head that it had all been some cruel trick. Pebblebrook continued reading.
"However, it is my wish that Virgina be fully prepared for the duties of creating such a charity, and that she be sound of mind and body before attempting any such task. To that end, I entrust her completely to the care of one Doctor Theodore Cane at St. Celia's School for Wayward Girls in Scotland, and will that she be kept there under observation until the good Doctor Cane sees fit to release her."
I could scarcely contain my excitement. Taking a leaf from Odette's book, I bit the inside of my cheek. "Well," I managed. "How very disappointing."
"Yes," sighed Mr. Pebblebrook. "I'm afraid the will stipulates that you return to this, ah, school immediately, allowing time only for--" There he stopped dead, and his eyebrows shot up once more. He cleared his throat so many times in quick succession that I feared he might really be having a fit.
"My goodness," he said. "This is most irregular. Most irregular indeed..."
It took the rest of April to conclude the business mentioned in the final paragraph of Father's will. When it was done, I hightailed it to Scotland as requested. I asked his carriage--I was still getting used to the thought that it was really my carriage--set me down at the far gates of St. Celia's. It would be quite a hike, but it was May now, genuine spring, and I needed the fresh air.
I began to walk. Trailing from one hand was my battered suitcase of asylum dresses, exactly what I had left with.
There was a book held under my other arm.
The title read "Wayward Girls: Being an Autobiographical Memoir of the Happenings at an Asylum for Young Ladies, by Miss V."
The publisher, an old school chum of Father's, had agreed to publish it at his friend's last request--but only if I swore not to use my name, nor the name of St. Celia's itself. Everyone was referred to by their initials, with certain Misses R.C. and O.M. featuring prominently, along with a Miss L.T.M.H.P.P.C, whose name, for the sake of brevity, was usually shortened to Miss L.
The publisher had also refused to print the facts of Lucina's cross-dressing, which I did not mind--I wished to keep the identity of Cane's handsome and heroic lawyer (also known as Mr. S. G., Esq.) secret for as long as I was able; forever, if possible.
The first copies would not be availiable in bookstores for nearly a month, though once they were, I did not think it would take people long to connect St. X's with St. Celia's. What would happen then, I did not know. But I felt better knowing that I had told the truth--for all of us.
In the low moorland on either side of the path, gorse and thistle waved in the warm breeze. A few sparrows twittered at each other from a thorn tree, which wore a crown of green leaves on its gnarled head. Clover bloomed thickly around my feet, smelling like honey, just perfect for weaving into necklaces.
At the top of the drive sat St. Celia's, small as a dollhouse. The unassuming gray stones let on little of the horrors that had happened inside.
'You've forgotten the bad things,' a little voice whispered in my mind. 'You have forgotten how terrible it is, and you will want to leave at once.' I thought of the needles, of the nuns' slaps and the terrible food and the vile, leering faces of most doctors, and I hesitated.
That was when I saw it. Far down the drive, where the moor gave way to the thin grass of our cricket pitch, a solitary figure was walking. This figure had rather short hair and rather large overalls, and a cricket bat slung over her shoulder like a gypsy's bindle, as if at any moment she might decide to fly away, easily as a bird.
"Home," I whispered. Then I began to run.