Defining Moment

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In Which Eustace Boards a Train

Eustace spent the night in the city's hospital, looked after by the hospital's kind staff of white-wimpled nuns. They took notes on his condition, his symptoms, and performed several tests upon him, during which Maggie was asked to leave the room, as they were required to completely undress their young patient. But Maggie was in the room, however, sitting by his bedside and holding his hand when the doctor of the establishment announced that Eustace had a congenital heart defect – a hole, in fact, straight through it, which caused his heart to beat irregularly when agitated, resulting in fainting, shortness of breath, and intense chest pain.

Maggie's face was pale, but she managed, "What does that mean for him now, doctor?"

The doctor's face was unreadable. "A season in a better climate – complete convalescence is necessary for him to recover strength."

So while the assassination of Mortimer Cadogan, Esq. was still under investigation, and a matter of speculation for the entire town, Maggie set about preparing Eustace for his journey to the Adirondacks, in America. Renowned for it's healing atmosphere, this range of small rustic mountains was the home of a recovery ward for invalids with similar conditions to Eustace.

"And to think that at the moment of my birth I had a hole through my heart," Eustace murmured, as he watched Maggie pace back and fourth, a notebook in hand, making a list of the things she would need to get from the mansion to send with him.

"Don't forget my library," he said cheerily. When Maggie looked up there were tears in her eyes.

"It has been decided that I am to return to my godfather's manor and stay there, at least for the time being." She went to his side, and knelt upon the floor, laying her head upon his chest. "I will miss you," she whispered, hot tears falling and soaking the cotton of the white shift he wore.

"Maggie... dear Maggie..." he soothed, running a hand to and fro over her hair. "Don't go on like that. Of course you will miss me. I will miss you too. But don't cry – please, don't cry. You know you take my love with you. Hush now..."

At last her sobs subsided, but still she remained, her head upon his breast, listening to the rhythmic beat of his heart, and fingering the strings that tied his shift together upon his neck. At last she sat up and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"I will wait for you to return, so we can continue our work." She smiled bravely.

"That's my girl. And you will write to me every week – will you not?"

"If you will write back."

"Of course I will. I will tell you everything about the place. To think that I haven't been anywhere at all since I was seven years old, only to become a world traveler at the ripe age of twenty-three..." Eustace chuckled.

Maggie knew he was doing this to keep her spirits up, and for this she greatly admired him, though she could tell from the deathly pallor that overspread his already colorless face, and the strange look in his hazel eyes that he was still very weak.

Though she hated to do it, that evening Maggie left Eustace for a few hours in order to purchased the things necessary for his trip, and return to the manor to pack. There were a few articles Eustace desired that Maggie retrieved from his study, along with the picture of Flora Reid from his bedchamber. Closing the door at the top of the small staircase, Maggie fought back tears, and wondered how long it would be before together they would return to the dusty library and continue their work on his grand timeline of all history.

"Illustrated by Mortimer Clancy..."She could hear Eustace's voice in her head as if it had been just yesterday. The mansion had been scoured for evidence by the police for the past week, but at last they departed, leaving the house silent once more, no indication remaining of the terrible murder but a bare floor in one chamber which now lay exposed where the blood-stained rug had been taken up for examination.

At last, all was ready, and Eustace was taken in a closed carriage to the train station which was the first place Maggie's arrived with James on her way to her new home so many years ago. Maggie prayed that all meetings at train stations would not prove to be, as they so often were, the firsts and lasts of human connexions. She walked along the platform beside a doughty nurse who had repeatedly refused Maggie's efforts to commandeer the rolling chaise into which Eustace was packed with many sheets, wearing a new jacket over his hospital shift, and a bowler hat upon his head.

The train was already taking on passengers, and Maggie gave her old portmanteau, which was filled with Eustace's things, to a station-hand as the nurse gave instructions about the trunk which was borne behind them by two stout orderlies.

"What have they got in there," one of them muttered to the other, as he grunted, getting a better grip on the heavy trunk and boosting it into the baggage car. "Bricks?"

"Books," the other responded. "He's quite a reader, I hear." The first orderly shrugged, and they returned to the carriage along with the nurse as Eustace's chaise was lifted onto the train, and Maggie climbed in after him.

"Now what do you think you're doing, miss?" he enquired, after smiling and thanking the men who had helped lift him aboard.

"Saying goodbye to you," Maggie said soberly, resolved to be brave now that the moment had come.

"'Goodbye'..." Eustace mused, removing his hat and rumpling his hair up into it's usual state, and ignoring the engine's first whistle blast. "It sounds so nice, doesn't it."

"Not if you know what it means," choked Maggie, fighting back tears.

"I like to think of it as a combination of words... good, meaning pleasant, and bye, rather like lullaby... something pleasant as well, and easy to–"

He stopped short as Maggie threw herself into his arms and held her breath to keep from weeping.

"Be brave, Maggie. I will write often," he said gently.

"As will I," she managed.

"I know it will be hard for you," he said, pulling her back so he could look into her eyes which were shining blue through her tears. Though his throat hurt from straining not to cry, he continued,

"Though you can't see me, touch me, talk to me, you will have my spirit with you always. And you know, that's better than if I were right there beside you, but did not have your spirit with me. Without that, I would pass into nothingness... but with our love, we shall endure forever," he whispered. "Just glance beside you. I'll be there."

The second whistle blew, and Eustace sniffed. "And then there's my work." He blinked rapidly, and regained control of himself. "I hope that will endure too."

Maggie nodded, and rose to her feet. "I wish I had something to give you to remember me by."

At that Eustace began to laugh outright, laughed until he coughed, laughed until all the passengers who were in the car stared at the girl who was still aboard saying farewell to her boisterous invalid friend.

"And I you," he managed at last, sobering with a smile. "But the only thing I would ask of you, I cannot have. Not yet at least. Not until I am well again –" he took her hand and pressed it to his lips, "And can return... and marry you... and do this the proper way."

"In willingness you have it already," Maggie said, kissing him upon the cheek, and turning to leave, hearing the final whistle blow.

"Farewell, Eustace. Until we meet again..."

"In heaven," he winked. "Goodbye, dear."

"Goodbye," Maggie mouthed, her voice making no sound as she stepped onto the platform just as the train began to move. It crept along at a snail-like pace, and then gradually increased in speed until the last few cars flew by Maggie in a dizzying blur of shining paint, hazy windows, and billows of smoke. Maggie stood for a long moment watching the departing train, and said in a quiet voice,

"Goodbye, Eustace. I love you." Then she returned to the silent dark manor to begin her first letter.

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