The Mirrors (part thirty-three)
Once their feet lit on the road’s sparse gravel, and Veronica hoisted the lantern, they saw the car was behind, not ahead…they had landed down current, closer to town.
Marian jogged off. Headlights, with the revving engine, blinked into fog. “Doesn’t look like anything’s wrong. Nobody bothered with it.”
Veronica squatted by each tire, and climbed in last. “Mr. Brasher may well have manned his post, until it got… I wonder what you can see of the house from here?”
“You go on wondering.” Cool-handed, Marian backed, turned, and bumped them along at an easy pace. Every several feet bright pairs of eyes came reflected, animal haunches flinging into woods.
“And so. Carolee was telling you how she found out from Charleton what we are. What the family mission needed to be.”
“And Godfrey…” Carolee said. “I’m sure I’ve given you a picture, by now, of Godfrey. I wasn’t the rightful heir. My mother had died in aught-eight, the accident with her horse. Our lawyer…my lawyer, my cousin Giles Roback, ran out a portion of the estate hunting for Godfrey. Trying to prove him dead. Alive, if it came to it. Grandfather had placed St. Hubert in a forty-nine-year lease with the government. He had effectively disinherited us…or myself, of course. Leonce was not in the picture, and so not Veronica. Some theoretical heir, son or daughter of a son or daughter, if Giles finds such a person, may reclaim the island one day. Your Carmine, if he will. Meanwhile, we found records of my grandfather’s. Notebooks, with lineages and assessments, and trials…trials of…”
“Experimental constructs. He’d meant for his science to be a legacy. He wasn’t ashamed…no, he was the Great and Chosen. That was exactly what Grandfather believed. The books had diagrams for the mirror arrangements. You see, even they weren’t a secret. A blueprint, for those who would carry on the work. Imagine a family discovering…” Veronica, more confident than her cousin, fell no less mired over descriptives. “We thought we needed to locate the people listed. They were blood, after all. They might be ill, destitute. It wasn’t right to have money in trust for the institute, and property, acreage…”
“Money,” Carolee cut in, “that was mine, if Godfrey was never found. I don’t live in that little bungalow because I can’t do better. But, because…I have better things to do.” She paused on this turn of phrase. “I hope it doesn’t sound boastful to say I’m one of the good Dumains. I have chosen never to marry, never to bear a child. Veronica has pledged this with me.”
“And we’d thought, our friend Rothesay. He is a son, a proper direct Dumain, his mother one of the institute women. William, I don’t know if she was yours.”
“Not a thing I mind to go pursuing, ma’am.”
Charmante had let them talk on, would not…hadn’t come to terms…could not, yet, ask of Carolee or Veronica…
What happened to Dr. Bonheur? How could he have vanished?
Everyone at the clinic knew him. They loved him.
“Rothesay studied medicine abroad. He survived the war and stayed after, moving between England and Belgium, doing relief work, then teaching. Giles and I wrote letters. Rothesay wrote back. I’ll take the blame,” Veronica said, “for finding all that history too trustworthy. He had no wife, he told me. His calling was everything. Carolee and I decided giving him the house would be right, the best choice all around, because a clinic for the poor, Mr. Rothesay said, was just what he had in mind. The money saved on building, he said, would leave more for the good works.”
Still. Doers of good works must state their good intentions in ordinary terms.
A devil might read the secret heart.
Charmante woke, seeing the room with its Queen Anne furniture in a haze of bare sunrise. In her own bed she would have rolled over. But she had dreamed of things unresolved, and she was in Old Dumain’s house.
Yesterday, in the garden, she had walked prepared to summon all the energy…force, science, whatever channel from the mirrors gave visions. She had wanted to see Dumain at his window, watching…as he had…knowing fire would break out in the cholera hospital. He had known it, he had waited for it, to see flame shatter the first glass. To thrill at inquiry, listen to the screams, monitor the progress of escape. Learn, of the inmates, which could win. Dumain stood curious to know whether such events produced patterns of behavior, how these patterns served or thwarted, what new knowledge could be applied to the next tragedy.
What difference, then, did tragedy itself make?
He had put on his coat, his hat, walked the distance, found himself mobbed by his panicked staff. Told them to lock the wards.
And he had been a young man.
The room didn’t face Dumain Street. Charmante wanted to tiptoe into the hall, find one that did, prove herself right or wrong by how whole the empty field showed. Dumain might have watched the riot unfold as well, forty years later, tallying up more of his useful data. He might have watched, notebook in hand.
She was tired, her limbs resisting. And if she got lost…she surely would…wearing Susie’s borrowed nightgown, having to knock on another resident’s door…
It would not be a lasting humiliation. However, the Institute was a serious place. Dumain’s house sat not spookily empty, not even quiescent in the smallest hours. Students pursuing degrees lived here, doing their research in the archives. Her door was outlined by lamplight; and voices in talk, sweetly earnest, rose from other rooms.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)