The Strength To Know The Difference

July 19, 1896
Edith Bowen

Is it wise to search for the good within the bad things which befall us? It can make them more palatable, but it can also allow us to forget. Some things are not best forgotten, lest we find ourselves retracing the steps which brought us to them. Ms. Maple and possibly even Elizabeth Bassett might disagree with me, but despite all that has come to pass, I would not have done a thing different. What does that make me?

In the aftermath of my near death experience, I find I have a new passion for living. Staring death in the face has indeed changed me and not all for the better I fear. I cannot help but recall thinking of all the things I have not done, all the moments I have wasted and having survived the ordeal, it seems logical that I address my regrets.

The other night with Charles was such a moment, caution tossed to the wind, along with propriety, clothing, and at least some of my dignity. He was wonderful, I never doubted he would be, but will Caroline ever forgive me? Charles thinks she will not know but I know her well enough to know a single look of Charles and I together and she will know the truth. If she asks me, I have all ready decided I will not lie. Charles will not suffer for it but I may well find it an uncomfortable final year at Primrose College.

The morning after our sordid affair was interesting at least. I fully expected an inquisition from Mr. Carrington, but as things turned out he was preoccupied and so far seems to have forgotten the matter entirely. I cannot blame him, were it not for my fond memories with Charles, I might have forgotten as well.

The morning began normal enough, normal enough considering I was in a married man’s bed when I woke and I was not his wife. Charles made coffee, I took a quick bath and dressed. I made egg shell omelets for breakfast which Charles ate without comment. It was amusing to watch him picking shell out of his teeth, but I refrained from giggling, lest he think I did it on purpose.

Just as I was washing the dishes, a knock came on the door. I sighed, expecting it to be Mr. Carrington. I had hoped it would take him longer to discover where I had gone and even that I was missing at all. I had concocted a plausible story of rising early and going for a walk but with him at the door it was not worth any effort to hide and reappear with it later.

Charles gave me a knowing look, before going to the door. I suppose he was a touch alarmed at the prospect of having to explain my all night stay in his home while his wife and children were away. The assumptions would be made regardless of what story we told. I suppose it is at least fitting that we did indeed do that which we will be accused of doing. It goes without saying we will deny it regardless.

“Good morning, Mr. Birchwood. I am sorry to disturb you so early.”

The voice was not that of Mr. Carrington but of our esteemed Dean, Mr. Steadward. My heart pounded in my chest. Dean Steadward was supposedly taken like Ms. Maple and I. Most had assumed he was dead, as we had not heard from him in so long.

“Do come in, Dean. It is good to see you well, sir.” Charles said and stepped aside to allow him to enter.

The Dean stepped inside and lost his voice for a moment. He stared at me and I stared at him. I am not sure which of us was more surprised.

“Miss Bowen, I was intending to see you next, it is good that you are here.” The Dean said at last into the silence.

I closed my mouth and forced a smile.

“What can we do for you?” Charles asked.

“I have just arrived back in town and it seems there has been a miscommunication of sorts.”

“Back in town? From where?” I asked.

Charles’ expression seconded my question.

“The morning I left, I told you I had a family emergency arise and would be leaving immediately. I asked you to inform Ms. Maple that our meeting would have to be postponed and to inform the faculty I would be gone for an undisclosed number of days but back before the start of term in any case.”

I blinked in disbelief. That was not at all what had been said. Rather than calling him a liar, I chose silence instead.

Charles looked between us and seemed about to question the story and then apparently thought better of it. Just then, another knock came at the door. Charles turned to open the door again, but it did not wait for him. The door swung open and Mr. Carrington entered.

“Edith! What are you doing….Dean Steadward, you are alive.” Mr. Carrington said.

“Quite. I just arrived back this morning. As I was just informing Mr. Birchwood, I was away on family business. Miss Bowen was to inform everyone, but apparently misunderstood me. I was rushed and no doubt the fault is mine.”

“Have you heard about Ms. Maple?” Mr. Carrington asked.

“Yes, a very sad affair. Miss Bowen, are you recovering well?”

“Yes, thank you. It was a frightening experience but it is over now.” I said.

“I feel somewhat responsible, having sent you off with a message for Ms. Maple. I did not know there was trouble about, but Ms. Maple has had problems in the past and I should have suspected something with the strangers I noticed on campus that morning. I was simply preoccupied with other matters and did not give it the attention it deserved.”

“What do you mean by trouble?” Charles asked.

“Ms. Maple had a bit of a gambling problem. She has twice before ran up enough debt that I was forced to interfere and pay her debts to avoid an embarrassing situation. From what I have heard it seems it is likely she did so again and found more trouble than she could handle.”

“That does not explain why they bothered with me.” I said.

“I imagine you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I nodded, but I was not about to agree with him. Something was dead wrong with the whole story and all I could figure was he had made some kind of a deal for his life. There was something about the way he looked at me which was almost pleading. I think he feared I would spoil it all and refuse to accept his new version of events. I must admit I was tempted to call the whole matter out. In the end I decided it was best to keep quiet and see where things are going.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, excellent, thank you.
Warm hugs,