The Harrowing Estrangement Part II (Novella)

February, 1853
Redlaw Mansion
It had been three months since the incident, and William had not yet come out of the shock. He lost his wife, Victoria, during childbirth, leaving him and his new born daughter alone in desolation. And now, with Patricia gone, he had lost his only hope of living. He was not keeping well these days. With his daughter, he lost his strength, his threshold to meek cough, cold, and fever at nights. He did not come out of his room much since then, did not talk to anyone much, and ate only on Mr Tetterby’s insistence.
“You must eat, Mr Redlaw”, he said, standing along with Martha, holding a bowl of chicken soup and a silver spoon in his hand, trying to make him eat something, and keep him alive “you must keep well, for Patricia, for us”.
William would stare far at distance, and get lost in his daughter’s memories. He wanted to know what had happened to his daughter; more than anything, he wanted his daughter back. He had his meal, under Mr Tetterby’s supervision, and remembered his daughter again.
There was a soft knock on the door, and Martha moved forward to open the door, “Mr Redlaw”, said the old maid, “Officer Lucas has come to pay you a visit”. William paused for a moment, and nodded in acceptance, to let him come in the room.
Mr Tetterby gave up, and left the room with the bowl of soup in his hands, which was half-eaten and half-cold. He let the two gentlemen talk in private, and asked Martha to send in some tea for them.
“Good morning, Mr Redlaw”, said Officer Lucas in a soft voice, “how are you doing today?”
William turned his head to look at Officer Lucas, and stared at him for a moment. Lucas waited for his response with a pause, and raised his eyebrows.
“Better”, replied William with a gloomy tone, and he looked away. He knew that the Officer has come to console him, and reason with him why he hadn’t found anything about his daughter yet.
“Mr Redlaw”, said Lucas, “I feel grieved to have you informed that there has been no progress in finding your daughter so far; however, our skilled detectives are trying their level best to find more evidences about the accident”.
William kept staring at something in the distance; he did not respond to the Officer. Lucas waited for a moment, and moved closer to him. He stood next to his armchair, and asked, “Mr Redlaw, I do know how much your daughter meant to you, and we are trying hard to get hold of information about her. But it would be really helpful if you discuss with us about her behaviour earlier. Was there anything which worried her much; did she tell you anything, ever?”
William did not respond to that either. He was still, lost in some thought which kept him thinking. Lucas was losing patience; he was about to leave, but William spoke, which broke the silence in the room, “All I wish to know what has happened to her, only then could my soul be in peace”.
Lucas sighed heavily, and replied, “We are trying our level best, sir. But we need to talk about something important, in order to understand your daughter’s state of mind before she went missing”.
William looked at the Officer with narrowed eyes. “Hmmm”, he mumbled. Losing his daughter has put him through the toughest tests of his life. There is nothing which is going to shock him anymore: not any ridiculous question about his daughter losing her sanity, her wobbly thoughts, and her erratic and unsound behaviour towards the social norms against women—nothing at all.
Lucas paused for a moment, thinking over how to phrase his questions, and be very careful not to hurt or evoke William Redlaw.
“Mr Redlaw, you were very close to your daughter, the closest person, I assume. Would you like to acknowledge me with something that you found to be”, he paused again for a second, “different?”
William was very well accustomed to the question by now; after all this was what everyone had been asking him since the day she disappeared.
“How would you like to define different”, asked William turning towards him, “Officer”, he ended his question with a pause, staring right into his eyes.
Lucas sensed the tension in the air; he decided to be a bit more careful with what he was going to speak. He preceded, “Different, like unusual of her, something irregular, atypical in her behaviour before the night. Was she troubled or upset by something, which you might be aware of?”
William looked away from him, as he had textured his question with leaving no room for anything upsetting or offending. “My daughter was perfectly fine”, said William, lost in Patricia’s memories, “there was nothing that I had let her worry about, except for writing”.
Lucas was not convinced with the answer William expressed. He needed more clues to investigate the case. But maybe today was not his day. He knew how deeply William has been affected by the loss. He was fine with giving him some more time to recover. He decided to give him a while, some more to come out of the shock, the grief he had been going through. And hence, he decided to take leave for the moment.
“Mr Redlaw”, he said while leaving, “it would be really nice if you could help us further with the investigation. All you would have to do is to respond to our questions with convincing answers”.
William had no interest in responding to that; he kept staring away, lost in his own thoughts. Officer Lucas saw no hope from him, and started leaving the room. Just then, Martha entered the room with a silver tray in her hand, with tea for William and the Officer. But Lucas did not stop for tea, and walked out of the room briskly.
Martha turned back to see Officer Lucas leaving, she emancipated that he was upset by William’s blank and disoriented behaviour. She placed the tray on the side table placed next to his chair, and stood next to him for a moment. She observed how gloom and quiet the house has become, and the appeal of the house had forgone. The house looked more like an old, silent bungalow, haunted by memories of the missing girl—dark and gloom. She walked around the room with her dusting cloth, just an excuse to be around the grieved man for some time.
She walked towards his desk, and finds Patricia’s leather book lying under few heavy, green and brown colour bound books, and pulls it out. She put the book down on the side table, right next to the cup of tea which lay untouched.
William stared at his daughter’s book, and kept staring at it. Martha was sad to see her master in such a devastated situation. But she is just a maid, who was employed at work, when her husband, Christopher Bray, who was an un-established writer, who once worked as William’s father’s apprentice, mysteriously disappeared one day, leaving his four months old crippled daughter, and his young wife behind. Martha’s daughter had been crippled since her childhood, and Martha had no means to earn bread for her family. William learnt about this sad event, and brought her to the mansion to look after his bride.
Though she was much respected and cared in the house, for she had nurtured it with her every strength and breath, she never crossed her line to tell William what to do: even if she worked all her life to be with the new bride, Victoria, looked after her when she was carrying little Miss Patricia in her womb, took care of the new-born, mother-less baby, and grew her up as own daughter, Martha had no rights to speak in the matters of the house. She could not ask, or even suggest, her master to do anything that would bring him out from his state: to go out and take some fresh air in his lungs, and try to be strong to accept his life, and start living the way he did before, to go and attend the meetings of the Writers’ Association, and ponder upon new ideas to write another marvellous book, to go out and see how much the town had changed while he mourned for his beloved daughter all this time. She could not see William in such a confounded shape anymore. She decided that come what may, she would speak to him, comfort him, and ask him to come out of his grieved and lamented condition.
“Mr Redlaw” she gently said, “I just wanted to tell you how grieved I am to see you sorrowed, but we must not fall weak, that’s how life is”.
William, still staring at Patricia’s notebook, said, “Martha, you took care of her like your own daughter, you have been with her every moment until that night. How do you feel when she is suddenly not around you; tell me how do you feel?”
Martha almost cried, and somehow pushing her tears back to her eyelids, she replied with much difficulty, “I think of her every moment, everything that I do. I would think all the time how things would have been if Miss Patricia was still along with us, how happy we would have been. The only thing that kills me is to think what had happened to her; through what misery had she undergone. Did she die in peace, or is she loitering around the country somewhere? Only if I could know what had happened to her, and end all the uncertain thoughts, all the anxieties”.
William took his eyes away from his daughter’s notebook, and looked out of the large window in his room, into the grey sky. A chill wave ran down his spine when he thought about the uncertain thoughts Martha spoke about. Tears filled his eyes suddenly. Martha tried to break the silence; she lifted the brown notebook in one hand, took Williams hand in another, and pushed the notebook in his hands. William looked at her, puzzled. Martha pressed his hands with hers, and said, “Maybe this could lead us to all our answers, maybe this could help us know what had happened to our girl. Maybe if you fill the holes, and finish the unfinished, we would find what she would have wanted to tell us, if she was here now. Maybe this is our only hope”.
William looked down at their hands, and paused for a moment to think: maybe Martha was right, maybe he should work towards finding himself about his daughter. Enough of him being lifeless, the time has arrived that he stands strong, and finish what his daughter left undone. He put his hand on Martha’s, gently, in acceptance to what she said. Martha smiled mildly at him, with tears in her eyes at the same time, for she was happy that her words worked to console her master. She was happy that she could work to bring him out of his armchair, into the normal Hamworth. She took her hands away, and bent slightly to make his tea. She passed him his cup, while still stirring sugar into it with a silver spoon. She stopped stirring, took the spoon out and placed it on the saucer. William slowly moved his hand towards her to take the cup of tea. He sipped from the cup, with his grey eyes closed, and when he opened them again, there was a glimmer of seriousness, a spark of determination.
He placed the cup and saucer on the table, and opened the notebook. He flipped through the pages, and found unfinished short stories, small drawings and diagrams of, what it appeared to him, the characters. He kept looking for something peculiar, until he reached to a place where he found jumbled sentences, dialogues, and a different and misshaped handwriting, which, he remembers, is not of his daughter or anyone else in the house. He read the first sentence, which said, ‘Thou shalt live our misery”.
William could not understand what it meant, what it implied to, he closed the notebook to think, but he failed to think of anything. He kept pondering while Martha was dusting his table, placing things on their places. She found Patricia’s white quill, the one once her husband owned, which she had gifted her once. She remembered how precious it was for her; how much it meant to her. She poured some fresh ink into a new ink-pot, and beautifully kept the quill on it. While she was done clearing everything, she turned back towards William, to find him already sleeping, hugging the notebook close to his chest. Martha pulled a soft blanket from his bed. As she stood next to his chair, she observed how the old man grew much older since he lost his daughter. She covered his body with the blanket, to keep him warm, picked the silver tray and tea cups, and gently left the room, without making any sound. She closed the door of the room, where William slept in peace, for the first time in three months.


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